“You should be happy alone,” they said. “Everyone knows that true happiness comes from within.”
I don’t know exactly where that idea came from.
It could have been just the spirit of the times, a zeitgeist brought about by an overzealous self-esteem movement that applied an interpretation of correlational work that got the causality backwards.
Or perhaps we could say that it was an important agenda mostly advanced by advertisers, who had a vested interest in our continuing on the nigh-impossible quest to be happiest alone, buffered from loneliness by possessions.
After all, it’s easier to sell unhappy people expensive fixes if they think their loneliness is self-imposed and not a result of external connection. Since connection at a basic level is largely free — if sometimes elusive. Easier to blame people for their loneliness and insist that they have to be happy in isolation, social exile. And sell products that should help bridge the gap… somehow.
The trouble, of course, is that humans are obligate social animals. By and large, people need people. We’re wired to seek others out and form social connections. And when we don’t form meaningful relationships, we suffer.
And the vast body of research of what drives human happiness (including one 75-year study) has concluded something very strongly: Good relationships, more than anything else, are what keep us healthy and happy.
Should you be able to tolerate time alone? Yes. You should also enjoy your own company, I’d say. If nothing else, there’s practical value in this because there are times when we do have to be on our own.
But is it also reasonable to expect that people will sometimes want companionship? And that not being able to find it will have a negative impact on their overall level of happiness? Yes
And wanting companionship isn’t a sign that anything is wrong with you. It’s a fundamental part of how human beings even operate.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.