Most people try and run away from loneliness. You’ve opened the fridge for the 197th time today and almost exhausted all the good shows on Netflix. Usually, you could meet a friend or go to a cafe but in this time when the government is advising us all to stay inside, it is a good opportunity to grow your relationship with loneliness and find the joy in just looking out the window.
Probably familiar to you, physical loneliness is the feeling when you’ve just finished a long day of work, you want to meet with people but nobody’s available. So you are forced to spend a night on your own when you don’t want to. This can be made worse if you struggle to be by yourself. This feeling is sure to have been felt and will continue to be felt worldwide in the coming weeks. But what about monks and hermits? They live mostly solitary lives and are some of the happiest people on Earth, suggesting that physical loneliness is not correlated with the number of people we see but the thoughts we have about life and ourselves.
The less obvious but much more sinister cousin of physical loneliness, spiritual loneliness can be described as the existential thoughts of dread many people have. Why am I here? Who am I? How did we get here? What am I doing with my life? When most of society is based around defining us by others around us and by our jobs, it drastically skews our outlook on life when these thoughts and questions do inevitably rear their ugly head. It is a tough time to be alone but perhaps this pandemic has just been a wake-up call to how the state of the world really was before it. The news is brutal and unlike any other generation, we willingly inject it straight into our thoughts.
Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to happiness and it is ancient in its nature. Used thousands of years ago by Taoists teaching each other and the people of China to appreciate the small things which put the negative things in perspective. Humans have an uncanny ability to take the most important things in life for granted. The complexity of life and of humans, most of which is unfathomable by us, has some facets that we can all appreciate. Take something as regular and familiar as breathing, one of the many functions keeping us alive and it may start to put some of your negative thoughts into perspective.
It is true that we have an inbuilt philosophy of how we think about ourselves and the world and sometimes this can be left unchallenged for a whole lifetime. Practising mindfulness and meditation can allow you to push past this and come to appreciate the most simple (yet complex) aspects of daily life and ourselves. And soon you will welcome those existential questions of dread like an old friend.