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On The Need for Intentional Solitude

Crete, Greece. July, 2023.

REFLECTION FROM APRIL 2024:

Recently I took myself out on a date. After enjoying a warm dinner, watching a film at the local cinema, and enjoying a glass of wine at a new bar, I ended the night with one thought: “I make such great company!” When I returned to the hotel, my mind was beaming with fresh ideas and excitement; I journaled a long list of everything I was grateful for while consuming an entire bag of chips. I felt a deep appreciation for my loved ones and a recharged motivation to pursue new projects. After a few weeks of complaining about how windy New York was and finding small reasons to feel unsettled about every interaction, this one night had wiped it all away.

Alcalá de Henares, Spain. January, 2017.

Given the minimal verbal exchanges happening even between the closest of friends nowadays and soaring rates of depression, why would one call for more solitude? Aren’t we told that humans are lonelier than ever before? Teens today spend hours on their phones and report feeling isolated and disconnected from their peers. What I’m calling for isn’t more loneliness. In fact, relationships are one of the most fundamental pillars of our well-being, and people with larger networks tend to be happier.

Madrid, Spain. April, 2017.

How can we cultivate solitude that’s intentional? By allocating set times to be by ourselves, we can shift our attention away from our mental chatter to our interests and our surroundings. It’s during these times with ourselves that we’re given the space to reflect. It’s in those pauses that we realize that perhaps we spoke too harshly with our Mother or that we really should return that friend’s phone call. Time with our thoughts can give us the necessary room to make less impulsive decisions, think through our next steps, and return to our connected lives with more meaning and purpose. Think about your closest relationships: it’s the ties that allow us to maintain our sacred individuality and time to ourselves that thrive most. As Austrian poet and guaranteed tear-jerker Rainer Maria Rilke said “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”

Madrid, Spain. May, 2017.

Aside from mindfulness, intentional solitude can grant us the necessary time to pursue hobbies and creative interests. Whether it’s quiet time to reread your favorite novel or pursue a new instrument, this focused time allows for deep concentration. Engagement with activities that excite us and are motivated by internal values can help us develop our skills and sense of self-efficacy, or the belief in our ability to influence our lives. Psychologist Mihaely Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow reminds us that challenging but meaningful activities help us unlock these blissful states where goal and intention align. According to him, our ability to separate ourselves to develop as individuals and later unite with others is a sign of psychological complexity.

Paris, France. March, 2019.

In this series of photos, the self dissolves through participating in an activity or connecting with the environment. Taken in different corners of the world, these images speak to the importance of intentional solitude. Carving out time to develop one’s interests and enjoy their own company isn’t sad or embarrassing; it’s necessary and essential for individual and interpersonal well-being.

New York, NY. March, 2018.

New York, NY. October, 2023.

New York, NY. December, 2020.

Madrid, Spain. October, 2018.

Madrid, Spain. January, 2017.

Seville, Spain. March, 2017.

Mariam Vahradyan

Mariam is currently pursuing a Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania as a Christopher Peterson Memorial fellow. Her research and creative interests share a common thread: storytelling and community building. Mariam’s photography explores themes of shared humanity and what holds us together in light and dark times alike. Check out more of her photography at her instagram @mariamvfilm.

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