Finding Strength in Healthy Doses of Solitude

Research suggests there’s a boundary between healthy alone-time and harmful loneliness. Plus—Explore mindful practices for embracing solitude.

Maja Topcagic/Stocksy

My father died suddenly during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. The loss unhinged me. Even though I lived with two roommates and was surrounded by fellow students and teachers, I spent the next three years of college in a fog of depression and isolation. After graduation I joined the Peace Corps, partly in order to avoid the draft—it was the height of the Vietnam War—and partly from having no idea where I wanted to go with my life.

Arriving in East Africa as a minimally prepared secondary-school teacher, I experienced being completely alone in a culture totally different from the one I’d grown up in. Paradoxically, instead of miring me in loneliness, being in this utterly new and different environment drew me out of my isolation. After a few weeks there, I woke up with a sense of shock to the realization that the way people were living in this part of the world—still organized in traditional tribal societies and cultivating and hunting their own food—was far more representative of how human beings had lived for thousands of years than the lifestyle I’d come from. American culture by contrast seemed like an artificial, self-involved, materialistic…

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About the author

David Rome

David Rome is the author of Your Body Knows the Answer, a book about accessing deeper knowing through mindfulness of the body.