Have you ever had some time on your own when nobody was near you? How did you feel? Did you enjoy the time of being alone or did you long for someone to come and break the silence surrounding you? People would give different answers to these questions. “The way one feels about being alone depends on the circumstances,” most of us would say. Researchers give more specific answers. In Western cultures, for example, being alone is likely to be regarded as an occasion of privacy that causes feelings of gratification or happiness (Mesquita et al., 1997, p. 271). On the contrary, for some Eskimo groups, the state of being alone is interpreted as a cause of sadness. Tahitians perceive loneliness as causing weird feelings and fear. For some Aboriginals of Australia, “sitting alone” prevents one from experiencing happiness (see Briggs, 1970; Levy, 1973; Myers, 1979). Do you find such a distinction between Western and non-Western experiences of being alone a bit simplistic? Do you think that all human beings consider a long stretch of isolation unpleasant? Some studies suggest that, cross-culturally, loneliness is supposed to be seen negatively (Bowlby, 1982). Could you think of examples (maybe personal ones) connecting long periods of “being alone” with positive emotions? Distinguish between conditions such as “to be alone” as a temporary situation and “loneliness” as a permanent state in one’s life.
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