Wednesday 9 November 2011

Happy Solitude

New scientific research was reported today that showed people who suffer from chronic, long-term loneliness suffer the same damaging effects to health as those who smoke 15 cigarettes a day. I have long been concerned with the scourge of loneliness, because I felt that Nicholas would be vulnerable to its awful effects without a strong social support network. My colleagues at Planned Lifetime Advocacy Networks, or PLAN , work every day to ensure that those who might suffer from social exclusion will never do so because they are supported by a group of family and friends who love them. The PLAN organization is a huge part of my life and is central to how we have crafted a good life for Nicholas.

But today on my Facebook page was another idea about how to combat loneliness - learning to be alone. Poet and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman created a beautiful film that extols the virtues of solitude and 'being happy your head', which is a world apart from the misery of loneliness. In my book, The Four Walls of My Freedom, I wrote a chapter about making friends with solitude - this is an idea that I began to learn about only when light appeared after bouts of depression in my adult life.

So, Andrea Dorfman's film got me thinking today, should we begin to think about teaching the techniques of 'being happy in your head' to those of us committed to social networks? Is being alone and being happy essential to being a good friend? Is it essential to listening to someone who cannot speak? Eva Kittay has written about the 'transparent self' of the good caregiver, or someone who has the capacity to subsume their own ego in order to completely know the needs of another. I am beginning to think that my aspiration to become a transparent self is going to require a few more lessons in happy solitude.

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