Society tells us that we should socialize to the fullest. That those who are surrounded by people are the most successful and the happiest. These days, we’re almost always connected, whether in person or through our phone screens and online social networks. But there’s something to be said for solitude. “Being alone” doesn’t necessarily mean “being lonely.” In fact, spending time by yourself is an essential element of self-care. The key distinction between introversion and extroversion is how one recharges his or her energy stores; if you’re an introvert, knowing that you need time alone is important for your well-being.
Though your friends might want to hit the club and host happenin’ parties full of people, you might find that your ideal Friday night is curling up with a cup of tea and a book or taking yourself out on a dinner date for one. Maybe you like to hike and enjoy the beauty of nature without needing to have a conversational partner blabbering your ear off. And that’s okay!
Around the globe, different cultures have wide-ranging perspectives on what it means to spend time alone. If you feel like wanting time alone makes you the odd one out in your society, maybe you’d fit in somewhere more your speed.
Keep reading to learn more about the culture of alone time around the world.
How Cultures Around The World View Alone Time
If you live or have spent time in the United States, you’re probably aware that Americans are often known for being bubbly, outgoing and gregarious. American culture tends to condemn solitude, too much of which is undesirable. For many younger people, weekends are packed with social activities, ranging from brunch with friends to dinner parties to game nights to boozing at bars and everything in between. And even the concept of the open-floor plan office, which was popularized in the post-World War II United States, has taken over American professional culture: an estimated 70 percent of offices in the country feature an open layout. Many American workers can’t avoid constant socializing during the day, even if they want to.
That’s not to say that Americans don’t enjoy their precious alone time when they can get it. They spend a lot of time watching TV, on average more than they spend on socializing. But for many, the consensus is that you’re not having fun if you’re alone — a cultural bias towards extroversion.
The United States isn’t the only place where you’ll find a heavy emphasis on social time. Across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom is known for being an extremely extroverted country. A survey of Brits found that more than half had never done and would be unwilling to do activities like going to theme parks or seeing live music alone. Most Brits spend almost twice as much of their leisure time socializing with others as they do being alone. And for a country that’s known for its fair share of alcoholic beverages, it seems less societally taboo if you’re not doing the drinking by yourself. This isn’t a blanket characterization, though, as you’re bound to find more solo-oriented Brits throughout the United Kingdom as you would find a diversity of people in any country.
The home can be a place of rest, relaxation and recharge — that is, if you live by yourself or have the space to be alone in your home. The country in which people are least likely to live alone is India, at about 4 percent of the population. China is also quite fond of multiple-person households, with only about 10 percent of people living by themselves. In more collectivist cultures like these — unlike the more individualist cultures of much of the Western world — many aspects of life revolve around community and group cohesion. This could mean multiple generations of a single family living together in a house or tight bonds between neighbors, colleagues and schoolmates. Thus, spending time alone isn’t as ingrained as a social convention in places like these, and the good of the group is prioritized over the needs of one person.
Places like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark value personal space and private time highly, which translates to spending time alone in home environments. Almost 2 million people in Sweden live alone, accounting for just under 40 percent of the nation’s households. It’s the country whose population is most likely to live alone; they’ve even got an expression, ensam är stark, meaning “alone is strong.” Talk about independence! But that’s not to say that the Scandinavians are not socially inclined; they just often tend to develop relationships and spend time with the people with whom they’re most intimate.
And they don’t necessarily equate being alone with being lonely, either. Culturally, in the Scandinavian countries and the northern parts of Europe, there’s much less of a social bias toward extroverts than you might find in a place like the United States, where small talk is a staple of conversation and it’s not strange at all to chat with strangers. Those who are more introverted might do well in places like these where people make easy escapes to natural landscapes. In Switzerland, abounding outdoor beauty makes it easy to savor alone time on one of the country’s many hiking trails.
On the other side of the world, Japan has generally always been a place where people enjoy each other’s company, often to the point where conformity to group-oriented culture has long been the standard. (A small island nation of roughly 125 million people requires that people learn to coexist in the same space.) But despite the historical peer pressure to operate in groups, the country has seen a rise in what’s known as “super solo” culture over the last few years. Whereas a decade ago eating lunch at the workplace alone or grabbing a drink by oneself would have been considered taboo, today the stigma is wearing away.
The blossoming movement is called ohitorisama, loosely meaning “party of one,” and it reflects a growing indifference to the social implications of going it alone — whether it’s dining at a restaurant, watching a movie at a theater, or grabbing a drink at a bar, some of which boast “solo only” policies. Even karaoke bars have seen increased demand for single-person singing sessions.