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How to Be Alone: An Investigation of Solitude Skills


Despite the documented benefits of volitional solitude for adolescents and adults, little is known about solitude skills, a term that has been mentioned only in passing in the literature. Psychologists have neither named nor described these skills, despite claims that such skills have important clinical and educational applications. To fill this gap in the literature, this dissertation presents findings from an exploratory study that interviewed eight adult creative writers to discern what skills they employed to reap the benefits of solitude. Qualitative methodology utilizing Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis yielded evidence for eight solitude skills, organized within two superordinate themes. Four skills comprised the theme Connection with Self: enjoyment of solitary activities; emotional regulation; introspection; and noticing and heeding internal signals to enter solitude; and four skills comprised the theme Proactive Approach: carving out time for solitude; negotiating with important others for time in solitude; being mindful of how time in solitude was spent; and balancing the needs for solitude and for sociability. In addition, themes from the qualitative analysis were consistent with several assertions about solitude in the psychological literature: solitude is a biological need; solitude supports identity development as well as intimacy with others; a preference for solitude reflects a pleasure in solitary activities rather than an aversion towards people; and solitude promotes happiness in the eudaimonic, rather than hedonic, sense. Finally, the two superordinate themes categorizing these solitude skills converge to support what may be the fundamental function of solitude: facilitating a relationship with the self. Identifying these solitude skills represents an important contribution to alone theory, because they reveal important processes necessary for solitude to be experienced constructively, or even experienced at all. Empirically testing this preliminary set of solitude skills with other populations paves the way for creating and adapting solitude skills curricula for educational, clinical, and individual use.

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