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On being alone or lonely

Huzaima Bukhari

“If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company”— Jean Paul Sartre  

We come to this world alone and are left alone after we pass away but throughout the period in between we yearn for the company of other human beings otherwise many tend to lose their sanity. We want to be surrounded with people who we can take care of and who can care for us. We want to be the centre of attraction, do things calling for attention and look around for applause and appreciation. This can never be possible if we are all by ourselves. Being alone is sometimes equated with loneliness but as aptly explained by Jonathan Van Ness: “Loneliness is, like, when you wish someone else was there, and solitude is when you enjoy being alone. I don’t always wanna be alone, but I definitely like pockets of solitude to recharge and come back to myself. I think that’s so important for everyone.”

The idea is that whether a person wants to be in a crowd or alone, if it is a matter of choice then we can go by what Jonathan said. However, there are many people who are forced by circumstances to be alone and they are the ones who are here, the focus of this write-up. Usually one witnesses such people as being lonely or under depression. They tend to remain under a cloud most of the times even if they are in a room full of people. Prolonged periods of this gloomy state prevent them from discovering their best traits that can help them enjoy their own company. They feel unwanted, bored, out of sync with others, unappreciated, lonesome and leading a purposeless life.   

Why would anyone want to be forlorn? Is it a disappointment that they cannot get over? Is it a memory that cannot be erased from the mind? Is it the continuous process of defeat at the hands of unaccomplished ambitions? Is it on account of a mismatched life partner or an estranged friend? Could it be because he/she is issueless or because his/her children are not coming up to expectations? There can be myriads of reasons to be depressed, unhappy and sad and it has been observed that many a times, people feel lonely even when they are sitting in a room full of a boisterous crowd or amid a festive occasion.

Psychologists say that the brain loves to overanalyze things and in doing so prolongs the effects of loneliness. Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is a classic example of the way depression can afflict a person. In order to overcome these feelings they suggest acknowledging a particular fact, like: “No one loves me,” and then shake it off your mind. Easier said than done, but this is the only way to prevent oneself from being pushed under the cloud. In other words, desist from over-reacting.

Jean Paul Sartre, renowned existentialist philosopher, who believed in the theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his own development through acts of the will. Even though we may desire company of other human beings, even though we may be dependent on what we can get in the form of happiness, fulfillment and strength from others, the fact is that we have to bear with just one person in our lives and that is none other but one’s self. Is it necessary then that the moment we are left alone, we start brooding, complaining, become bored, start doing crazy things, feel miserable and lonely? For those who are used to over-thinking (not in a philosophical manner but more to do with anxiety or apprehensions), being alone is frightening. This can be likened to watching a late night horror movie and trying to go to sleep without the slightest sound forcing one to cringe in terror. After all what is it that scares us about ourselves?

In our day to day interaction with our fellow beings, we are inclined to speak, act and behave in a way that earns us their appreciation and goodwill. Although our conscious self knows to some extent its attributes and inadequacies yet we look for a false opinion to contradict some of our qualities, especially our short-comings. We avoid people who are candid lest we are compelled to confront our weaknesses; and relish the company of flatterers who help us portray who we are not in reality. Unfortunately for us, the desire to be surrounded by lackeys, our confidence boosters, is one of the principal reasons for being terrified when alone. The uneasiness is due to lack of faith in our own abilities which we are aware, do not match the opinion of the bootlickers around us. So in their absence, we get afflicted with low spirits that cast a gloom which makes our own company intolerable.

What is the remedy? How can we make our own company good enough to enjoy moments of solitude? What can we do to cheer up our senses when no one is around? If someone is unwilling to sit by us, why can’t we let go? Instead of forcibly detaining the other, one should find ways and means to entertain ourselves. The world of internet is full of suggestions. From identifying the causes of depression to adopting a pet; from reading an absorbing novel to taking a guided tour; from exercising to getting a good massage or a relaxing bubble bath; from looking through old photo albums to having a nice dinner at one’s favourite eatery; from a long drive accompanied with one’s choice of music to watching a comedy movie, from pursuing a treasured hobby to reading or hearing inspirational stories; there is an endless list of to-dos.

All suggestions are excellent but perhaps the best one that appeals to the mind is writing. Not stories, poetry, essays, fiction, blogs, etc. but all those little and great divine gifts for which one needs to be thankful to the Allah AlMighty. We can only recognise how blessed we are by observing those, who are deprived of some of those wonderful things we take for granted or whose life is not as balmy as ours. We can spend hours complaining about what we do not have but it is time that we start being grateful for all that we do and learn to savour our own company rather than throwing ourselves into a depressing state.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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