Everyone is familiar with the oppressive feeling of loneliness. It feels as if the world is empty, as if the billions of souls around you have forgotten you, and that you don’t really matter at all. For some it may be a fleeting emotion, while for others it might last for years. Either way, most would quickly agree that is not something to be sought out, and should be avoided at all costs. Or should it?
A recent study by the BBC, simply titled The Loneliness Experiment went about taking a deeper look into this primal human emotion. Some of the findings were to be expected, while others flew in the face of everything that was assumed. Either way, it made many take a closer look at themselves, and what they thought they knew about their sense of being alone.
Young And Lonely
The first aspect of the study that drew looks of disbelief was related to age groups. A common perception is that loneliness is most prevalent in senior citizens. This, of course is based around the cliché of a sad old man or woman sitting in a retirement home. Statistics show that over 75s do indeed feel alone, to the statistical number of around 27%. A high percentage, right?
Think again. The percentage of those that reported feeling sad and alone in the 16 – 24 age bracket was strikingly higher, by as much as 40%. This may, upon giving it some thought, simply seem like the younger generation is more prone to stating they are felt alone, or that perhaps seniors felt obliged to state their independence. But, when asked participants of any age when they had felt the most lonely, they still specifically mentioned the 16-24 age bracket.
It’s Good For You
Another surprising result of the study was the percentage that agreed feeling lonely could be good for you. Not only did it offer an opportunity for self-discovery, but allowed a chance to reflect on existing relationships, and find new appreciation for them. It also gave people a chance to do whatever their hearts desired, whether it was reading a book, going for a walk or scouring the web for a rewarding casino bonus. With no one else to interact with, time spent alone was time that could be used for whatever indulgence a person preferred, with no interruptions and no judgements.
41% asked said they felt being alone could be beneficial, and provide a positive effect on emotional stability. Depending, of course, on how it was handled.
Social Skill Balance
A further fact the study revealed was that, perhaps predictably, those who felt the most alone didn’t have social skills any less than those who were contentiously social. There was no discernable difference in social skills at all, except the frequency with which those skills were used. Upon being social, those who spent more time alone quickly adapted, and got along with strangers.
Alone Time Develops Empathy
The revelation perhaps most talked about found that spending time away from others helped develop a deeper feeling of empathy. The study looked at empathy felt for both physical and emotional pain, giving up astonishing results. Although empathy for physical pain was equal across the board, those who felt loneliness scored higher in feelings of emotional and social empathy. Very simply, those who had experienced the pain themselves were much quicker to relate to it in others.
In conclusion, the two most revealing results of the BBC study were the unusual age bracket discoveries, as well as the fact that feelings of solitude had greatly beneficial results. As a whole, it seemed not only that time alone should be sought out from time to time, but also that it was all but essential in being a well rounded individual on an emotional level. These results offer a new perspective on an emotion that has played a part in virtually everyone’s life, and may make us think twice about what being alone really means.