Solitude and loneliness are often confused. In our extroverted society, the state of being alone often has negative connotations.
But does spending time in your own company necessarily equal feeling lonely?
Let’s compare solitude vs loneliness and point out the main differences between the two. But before we do that, let’s start with the definitions of each.
Solitude is a peaceful state of being alone. Experiencing solitude means feeling calm, rewarded, and happy while spending time by yourself.
Let me feature a quote from my book The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In:
Solitude. The very sound of this word is full of thoughtfulness, wisdom, hidden strength, and inner power. Solitude is a state of being alone without being lonely, it is about enjoying your own company.
Loneliness is a sadness that stems from the inability to connect with other people. Contrary to popular definitions of this word, loneliness is not limited to being alone.
Feeling lonely means being unable to affiliate with others emotionally or intellectually – and not necessarily physically. It often involves perceived isolation, for example, when you feel ignored or left out of a conversation.
Solitude vs Loneliness: 7 Key Differences
So what are the main differences between solitude and loneliness? And most importantly, how do you know if you are experiencing solitude or are just lonely?
1. Loneliness feels like you are missing something, solitude feels whole
The most important difference between the two is that loneliness describes a lack of something – connection, understanding, or support from other people.
On the contrary, solitude is a synonym of emotional self-sufficiency and makes you feel whole. You experience it when you are alone and enjoy it.
2. Loneliness is associated with negative emotions such as sadness, fear, and anxiety while solitude is all about calm and peace
Loneliness is for no doubt a negative emotional state. It can be paired with sadness, the fear of being alone, and the anxiety of being rejected or isolated.
Solitude, in turn, is associated with positive emotions such as calm, inner harmony, and peace. You can experience it when you take a solitary walk in the woods, step outside to stare at the starry sky, or read a fascinating book.
All these are examples of solitude. In these kinds of situations, you don’t need another person to feel happy.
3. To experience solitude, you have to be alone, but you can feel lonely while being surrounded by other people
As we said, solitude describes the state of being alone paired with positive emotions.
At the same time, you don’t necessarily have to be single or completely isolate yourself from society to benefit from solitude. You don’t need to turn into a hermit or recluse to do that. It can be as simple as spending one or two hours a day in your own company.
Loneliness, on the contrary, can affect you in the midst of a party or gathering. It can be a perceived lack of connection with other people when you feel like those around you don’t understand or accept you.
4. Solitude is simple, loneliness is multi-faceted
It’s easy to know when you are experiencing solitude – it feels peaceful and comfortable when you spend time by yourself.
Loneliness has many dimensions – you can be emotionally or intellectually isolated from other people.
For example, you may experience a lack of support or understanding from those around you, which leaves you feeling alienated and detached from everyone. This is emotional loneliness.
Or you may find yourself in the company of people who don’t share your interests, so you can’t discuss the things that seem meaningful to you. This is intellectual loneliness.
But there is also existential loneliness that makes you feel like you don’t belong anywhere and are cut off from society.
5. Solitude is a productive state, loneliness is daunting
This is another key difference between solitude vs loneliness.
Solitude is a state of enjoying solitary activities. The greatest thinkers of the world – writers, poets, inventors, and scientists – harnessed its power. Solitude means you can create, work, and be productive while staying on your own.
Loneliness won’t let you do that. The negative emotions that arise from it make you focus on the pain of isolation and you can’t think about anything else.
Loneliness leaves you feeling ignored, unaccepted, and left out, and this negative emotional experience is strong enough to ruin your productivity.
6. Loneliness takes away your peace of mind, solitude cultivates it
Loneliness is daunting, unsettling, and uncomfortable. It takes away your peace and calm. It plants fears and anxious thoughts in your mind.
You can feel it when you attend a social gathering and start worrying that you will say something wrong and other people will misunderstand or laugh at you. As a result, you end up feeling like an outsider who is cut off from others. This is an example of loneliness.
In turn, spending quality alone time and enjoying solitude can only cultivate a sense of peace.
7. Solitude is real, loneliness can be perceived
You can’t really fake solitude. You are either happy staying on your own or you are not. Even if you try to convince yourself that you are happy alone, but it’s not true, you won’t be able to feel that comfortable peace that arises from genuine solitude.
At the same time, loneliness can be a perceived emotional state. It often affects people who suffer from mental disorders such as anxiety or depression.
Mental issues can cloud your judgment and trick you into believing that you are misunderstood and rejected by those around you even when it’s not true. This kind of distorted perception makes it seem that you are lonely.
This is another key difference if we compare solitude vs loneliness or isolation.
As you have seen from the above, loneliness and solitude are not the same. To sum up, the main difference between the two goes down to the fact that solitude defines a rewarding and peaceful state of being alone while loneliness is a negative feeling of being disconnected from others.
I hope that this guide has helped you make sense of your feelings and figure out which of the two emotions you are experiencing.