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How to create a cosy and comfortable home environment
How to cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment
The benefits of slowing down and enjoying simple pleasures
The original MSS, published in 2006 by Cara Nicol, was a 56-item questionnaire designed to measure varying degrees of "self-determined solitude" (SDS) and "not self-determined solitude" (NSDS) on a four-point scale.The prompt question for MSS survey takers: "When I spend time alone, I do so because…”
For their most recent (2019) survey, Thomas and Azmitia used a truncated version that consisted of a 14-item questionnaire.
The researchers found that people who choose to spend time alone for mostly positive, "self-determined" reasons are at a much lower risk of viewing solitude as “social isolation” or suffering the negative consequences associated with feelings of loneliness than those who seek alone time for the predominately "not self-determined" reasons reflected in questions 9-14 in the survey above.
When it comes to motivations for seeking solitude, the key factors in the equation are choice and an individual's positive or negative motivation for wanting to be alone. Those who choose to be "let alone" probably know what’s best for their psychological, creative, and spiritual well-being. Conversely, those who have negative motivations for seeking solitude (e.g., social anxiety) often find themselves isolated in ways that are linked to loneliness, dysphoria, or depression.
Depending on someone’s reasons for wanting to be alone, the Motivation for Solitude Scale (MSS) shows that alone time can have countless potential upsides. Seeking solitude is not necessarily a red flag that something is wrong. According to the researchers, choosing solitude can help people flourish by facilitating self-acceptance, personal growth, creative expression, and spiritual connectedness.
Virginia Thomas, currently an assistant professor of psychology, conducted this research when she was a graduate student. "We got clear results that are pretty reliable indicators of adaptive versus maladaptive solitude," she said in a statement. "These results increase our awareness that being alone can be restorative and a positive thing. The question is how to be alone without feeling like we're missing out. For many people, solitude is like exercising a muscle they've never used. You have to develop it, flex it, and learn to use time alone to your benefit."
"Solitude serves the same positive functions in introverts and extroverts. Introverts just need more of it," Thomas said. "Our culture is pretty biased toward exyroversion. When we see any sign of shyness or introversion in children, we worry they won't be popular. But we overlook plenty of well-adjusted teens and young adults who are perfectly happy when alone, and who benefit from their solitude." The researchers encourage parents to appreciate the often undervalued potential benefits of alone time for their children.
"Solitude has gotten a lot of bad press, especially for adolescents who get labeled as social misfits or lonely," senior author Margarita Azmitia, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. "There's a stigma for kids who spend time alone. They're considered lacking in social skills, or they get labeled 'loners.’ It's beneficial to know when you need to be alone and when you need to be with others. This study quantifies the benefits of solitude and distinguishes it from the costs of loneliness or isolation."
Recently published research (Uziel & Schmidt-Barad, 2022) highlights how being able to choose when we spend time with others or spend time alone increases happiness. On the flip side, being forced to socialize or not being able to choose "self-determined solitude" makes people unhappy.
During the 10-day study that mimicked real-life social dynamics, participants were exposed to 4 different settings: 1) choosing to be alone, 2) choosing to be with others, 3) forced (no choice) time with others, and 4) forced (no choice) alone time.
Notably, the researchers found that being with others by choice had the strongest, most positive effect on feelings of happiness and episodic subjective well-being (ESWB). However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, being with others not by one's choice had the most significant negative impact on ESWB.
Although this study didn't look at the impact of mandated Covid-19 lockdowns, one could speculate that the loss of choice made it harder for even the most gregarious and extraverted among us to enjoy being surrounded by housemates or family members 24/7.
Stay-at-home orders also took away the "self-determined" aspects of SDS. Forced social isolation can quickly start to feel closer to solitary confinement when being alone isn't within your locus of control.
"In terms of our momentary experiences, sensing that we are in the company of others by choice is associated with the greatest boost to our well-being, sense of meaning, and control," Liad Uziel and Tomer Schmidt-Barad write in their paper's abstract.
"Aloneness (by choice and not) emerged as a setting of relative stability, with participants experiencing their different alone conditions quite similarly," they add. According to the authors, solitude is a predictable experience that can be a "source of personal growth" that boosts happiness and well-being if alone time is utilized effectively.
“I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be let alone!’ There is all the difference.”
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
Being with others only makes us happy if we do it by choice; when choice is taken away, whether we are social butterflies or lone-wolfs, extraverts or introverts, matters little to our happiness; togetherness and aloneness can make us equally unhappy. Let’s choose what we need to be happy.
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