If You Love Being Alone, There's Nothing Wrong with You.

After reading this study, I couldn't stop laughing.

If You Love Being Alone, There's Nothing Wrong with You.
Shot Prime

About half of adults would prefer electric shocks over spending fifteen minutes alone with their thoughts. That's what a team of psychologists at the University of Virginia found out ten years ago. They're the ones who want to hang out with you during a plague.

They didn't just consent to electric shocks. They did it to themselves. They were given a little button to push.

They pushed it.

They did it even after telling the researchers they'd pay someone to avoid electric shocks. That tune changed pretty fast.

According to the study, there's a wide gender gap here. Nearly 70 percent of the men preferred the shocks, compared to 25 percent of the women. As the authors conclude, "Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative."

Since those people make up a majority, they get to make the rules. They pass the laws. They decide the social conventions. They determine what's normal. They define the personality disorders. Yes, that's right. It's the people who prefer to shock themselves rather than spend 15 minutes inside their own heads. They run things. There's no personality disorder to describe their behavior, because there's so many of them.

Now life makes sense.

Maybe you always wondered why prisons treat solitary confinement as the worst kind of punishment. It sounds kinda nice.

Well, that's why.

I used to laugh to myself quite a lot. People thought I was nuts. Now some of the research is showing the opposite. It means you have a rich inner tapestry of thoughts. It means you're perfectly capable of occupying and entertaining yourself. You're not like the self-harmers.

Nobody will say this part out loud, but it's pretty clear. They want you to prefer mild electric shocks over solitude as well. They can't understand why you prefer a Friday night alone with a book. They can't grasp why you decline invitations to parties to protect your health. They can't handle 15 minutes of quiet reflection, but you're the weird one.

If two-thirds of men and a quarter of women can't handle 15 minutes alone, imagine what anything resembling a lockdown must feel like to them. It must feel worse than electric shocks. Netflix could help a little, but only so much. That explains why so many people seem to regard social distancing measures as an endless quarantine. It's why so many of them are so eager to socialize now, regardless of what it does to their health or the planet. They would rather self-harm than give it up.

Now consider that a handful of extremely rich families have spent the last few years pouring money into campaigns designed only to enhance everyone's desire to go out and mingle, while accusing you of anxiety, depression, or personality disorders because you'd rather not. On top of that, they fill the internet with articles telling you that you'll live a shorter life riddled with health problems because you prefer solitude.

It's a lot.

As the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." Krishnamurti died in 1986. Imagine what he would say about society now.

Well, you know what it looks like.

It's no wonder why a growing number of us choose ourselves over hanging out with people who prefer self-harm over solitude. Look at Japan and South Korea, where the cultural pressures have prompted large numbers of young people to live largely in isolation. The corporate media portrays them as disturbed, confusing their symptoms with the problem. Maybe it's not the isolation that causes their depression. Maybe it's the larger society, and their reclusion is the only thing keeping them halfway sane.

That probably sounds nuts to the 70 percent of adults who would shock themselves repeatedly if left alone for 15 minutes.

Maybe to you, it doesn't.

John McCain has gone on record describing the pain of loneliness as far worse than the broken limbs and dysentery he suffered as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In fact, prisoners and kidnap victims routinely describe the isolation as the worst part of their suffering.

So it's true.

Most people would rather die than be alone. It's surprisingly easy to convince them to hurt themselves in exchange for any form of social interaction, no matter how trite or superficial. For them, loneliness truly does harm them as much as smoking.

But that's them.

It's not you.

Your brain is wired differently. You might've been diagnosed with autism, or with schizoid personality disorder. They overlap. Neither groups show a strong need to form social bonds, but they can function in the world just fine. They're often very smart and extremely talented. That conflicts with the way we're portrayed in the entertainment industry.

Neuroscientists have discovered that, regardless of your clinical label, those of us who prefer solitude have something in common. We tend to have low levels of oxytocin in our brains, and higher levels of vasopressin. That's the recipe for introverts and recluses, even hermits. Michael Finkel talks about this brain profile in his book The Stranger in The Woods, about a hermit named Christopher Knight. He lived in the backwoods of Maine for nearly three decades, living off goods pillaged from cabins and vacation homes. He terrified residents, but nobody could ever find him.

When police finally found Knight, they were shocked. The guy was in nearly perfect mental and physical health. Locals didn't believe his story. They expected the Unabomber. Instead, Knight turned out to be a pleasant guy who loved reading. He was easy to get along with. He had no grudge against society. Therapists got exhausted trying to diagnose him and gave up. "I diagnose him as a hermit," they said.

Societies didn't always try to ascribe mental illness to their hermits. In the middle ages, almost every town in Europe allowed hermits to live on the outskirts of town. Some of them took on the life of the anchorite, living sealed up in a stone cell on the side of a church. They gave life advice and occasionally talked philosophy with anyone who wanted to visit them. That arrangement was especially attractive to many women, who preferred a stone cell over an extremely patriarchal culture and its expectations. A few centuries later, it became popular for aristocrats to hire hermits to live on their property. Rich people thought they were good luck. Chinese emperors sought hermits as heirs to their throne.

They declined.

Things are different now.

Society doesn't leave hermits alone. They're doing everything they can to force social interaction on everyone. They insist it's good for you, ignoring the evidence that solitude can benefit people, lowering their blood pressure and even encouraging brain cell growth. It just so happens that social activity drives this twisted economy.

It makes sense why you want to be alone.

The world is getting louder. It's getting brighter. It's getting meaner. Noise and light pollution shred our sleep. Empathy levels have dropped to record lows. It's hard to find someone willing to endure the slightest inconvenience, even for their own good. Our bosses and their bosses think they know what's best for everyone else. They don't truly appreciate difference, cognitive or otherwise. They want everyone to live the same, work the same, and consume the same. They want everyone to catch the same diseases. It's profitable for them.

Who wants to live in that?

Yes, stealing from people and terrorizing them is wrong. It's not quite as bad as half the things the rich are doing to us.

Perhaps if society made a space for people like Christopher Knight, they wouldn't feel compelled to break the law.

(Just a thought.)

This world was made for and by the men and women who despise solitude so much they'd rather shock themselves. It's no wonder they would also rather expose themselves to any other kind of risk, while also engaging in activities that are making the world uninhabitable.

When Christopher Knight talks about his decades in the woods, he describes it in spiritual terms. He lost his sense of self, but in a good way. There were no more boundaries between himself and his world.

He was part of it.

Self-help gurus often talk about the need to find yourself. But that's not what Michael Finkel learned from his study of hermits, monks, artists, philosophers, or solo adventures.

They all find peace and happiness when they lose themselves. It goes against everything we're taught to believe.

Hermits live on a spectrum. Some of them go deep into the woods and you never see them again. Some of them live on the outskirts of society. These days, many of them probably thrive online.

So, there's nothing wrong with you. It's completely reasonable to prefer solitude or a small community than to participate in a society that's abandoning any pretense of kindness or even logic. You can interact with it as much as you want. Stop feeling guilty. You don't have to save the world, but it helps to understand it.

These days, being a hermit isn't a sign of mental illness.

It's a sign of mental health.


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