Last time we ended on solitude as a means towards internal happiness. John Stuart Mill waxes poetic in his agreement:
“It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude in the sense of often being alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character; and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without.”5
As long ago as 1937, the great British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, bemoaned his concern that modernity had lost solitude. This is obviously more evident today with pervasive technology that effectively makes it impossible for us to ever be truly alone. One solution is to withdraw from excess community and turn off the technology. A second is learning to find solitude within the group setting. Just as one can feel lonely in a group, so when can self-sequester to achieve a component of solitude, although this is a skill not easily acquired. Seneca states this clearly, “The time when you should most of all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.” Marcus Aurelius agrees,
“Retreat into yourself, no retreat offers more quiet and relaxation than that into your own mind, especially if you can dip into thoughts there which put you at immediate ease…the doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment of what you must rejoin.”6
In summary, happiness at the level of self results from the good life one chooses for oneself, the psychological choice to be happy (as the choice of sadness is irrational), a good conscience through moral rectitude, and a balance of solitude and sociability. Particularly important in our time is the ability to disconnect enough from technology and sequester oneself to find solitude at will.
Next time we look at the fourth component of internal purpose – inner meaning. Join me then.
5 Svendsen, Lars, A Philosophy of Loneliness. Reaktion Books, Ltd., London, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-747-3, page 121.
6Meditations, Book 4:3.