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Living alone becoming a way of life for many, but that's not necessarily for worse

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What a lonely country Japan is – for better and for worse.

For better, say many – more than ever before. To be alone is to be free – free to do what you want when you want; free of the nuisance of having to take others into account; free to travel, pursue hobbies, develop skills, learn languages, indulge whims you’d be embarrassed to reveal to your nearest and dearest, if you had any.

It’s good that Japanese are making their peace with solitude, because solitude is upon them. As of now, one-third of all Japanese households are single-occupant. Soon, half will be.

It’s good, and yet in a sense not, says psychologist Shion Kabasawa, speaking to the business magazine President (Nov 29). There’s a connection, he warns, between solitude and suicide. “For the person who has lost all ties to society,” he says, “life can lose all meaning. Killing yourself becomes easy. On the other hand, if there’s even one person out there who really cares about you, the chances of your committing suicide go way down.”

Two-thirds of suicides, Kabasawa says, occur without the individual having talked to anyone.

But to be alone is by no means to be necessarily to be in despair, President finds. A survey it conducted of 1,300 business people, men and women, shows that many live alone by choice. Others simply happen to, and find they like it. Interestingly enough, the more friends you have, the more alone you’re likely to feel. In numerical terms: 66 percent of respondents with no friends at all say they feel lonely – as against 76 percent for those with one friend, 84 percent for those with two to five, and 87 percent for those with six to 10.

That’s counter-intuitive at first blush but makes sense on reflection: 65 percent of people with no friends say they like being alone – versus only 30 percent of those with more than 10 friends. It’s the people who don’t like being alone who put themselves out to make friends, and who feel loneliness most keenly when alone.

Two obvious alternatives to face-to-face human companionship are social media and pets. The more time you spend on social media, President observes, the lonelier you’re likely to feel. (Or is it vice-versa?) As for pets, the lonelier you feel, the more likely you are to own one. Also: the more likely you are to discover that loneliness can bring more pleasure than pain.

There’s a chicken-and-egg problem attached to social networking: Do networkers feel lonelier to begin with and consequently spend more time online? Or does spending time online somehow heighten awareness of loneliness, perhaps by betraying hopes that online friendships can be an adequate substitute for face-to-face encounters? Kabasawa poses the question without answering it.

Pets have an interesting physiological – and therefore psychological – effect on us, Kabasawa explains. Fondling your pet stimulates the brain to produce the hormone oxytocin, known colloquially as “the cuddle hormone.” Sex stimulates it too. Feelings associated with it are calm, tranquility, love. It has, in short, a lot going for it. Loneliness need not be lonely after all.

A lot depends on what you do for a living. High-income people tend to be lonelier types than those earning less – but they also tend to like being alone. Most high earners are executives, accustomed to making lonely decisions on which much depends. It’s a burden but also a thrill, if you’re up to it. If you’re not, here’s President’s advice: work in a sector where clients are likely to thank you. Teachers, doctors and welfare workers are among the loneliest professionals – they have great responsibility but get little thanks for their efforts.  Journalists exert wide influence but have little direct contact with readers and viewers. At the other end of the scale are, for example, delivery personnel who stand a good chance of being thanked by everyone they deliver a package to. Their working conditions and pay may not be enviable, but gratitude, if you can get it, does have a way of brightening life.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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What a lonely country Japan is

I think you need a reference point for statements like this. Lonely compared to where? In some ways it will be true, but not in others.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Wanting to live alone without any friends is a mental and social illness.

I don't think so. Some people are just natural loners. I don't think it helps when people characterise other people's personal choices as an illness, just because they don't feel the same way.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Wanting to live alone without any friends is a mental and social illness.

Really? Lots of religious figures and followers have done so over the centuries. As BigYen says, it's a personal choice. Maybe some of those recluses out there have had enough with certain societies that might well be considered as mentally ill?

9 ( +9 / -0 )

As a writer who's lived alone for the past twelve years, and written about the difference between loneliness and what I call 'aloneness', I can unequivocally state that Disillusioned is wrong, and both BigYen and Toasted Heretic are correct.

The article doesn't get as deeply into the subject as I have, in the past, but it mentions some salient points, and questions the options that some people choose, when they are insecure with being alone. Social media is one of the worst traps.

And I'll leave it at that.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

I hated living alone.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Different folks, different strokes. There's no one-size-all way to live life.

That said, I thought that this article would touch on Japan's low birthrate and decreasing population. For sure, if people are being solitary, they won't be making babies. But I guess that the author didn't want to go there.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Every few weeks I enjoy a day alone walking all across Yokohama waterfront. It really recharges me.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Anything is fine if it doesn't hurt anyone right? I can't remember the last time I was really alone that wasn't like, in my bedroom occasionally. If I step outside the house there's immediately tons of people and we live in a double house that shares a stairwell with our in laws and they're always here. I'd kill to be alone, tbh. Back in the States I hated being alone, mainly because it was actually possible. Being constantly surrounded with hoards of people everywhere you go tends to make you long for solitude. Can't blame anyone.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Probably a couple of years max out of seven decades of living alone. I need an audience for my jokes.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Am apartment hunting in downtown Osaka as we speak...for a 1LDK, gunna do it alone people...happily too :)

Life is what you make of it. Thoughts are your reality.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Let everyone live as they choose because it's a free world.

As for myself, I love moving through life surrounded by my wonderful wife and bunch if kids. Even the kids who've left the nest are in close touch. And so are my many friends. I do have regular times of solitude to be alone, gather my thoughts, de-stress, pray, read, relax and do hobbies. But after that I get back in with the crowd I love.

I want to grow old and pass on to the next life surrounded by my loved ones. That would put a cool end to the amazing life I've had with such incredible family and friends.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I feel sorry for the many lonely Japanese. While this article focuses on the benefits if loneliness and those who prefer it, I would wager that the majority of lonely people would prefer company and bemoan thier situation. How sad.

As much as I love Japan to bits, the inability of so many Japanese to communicate well and nurture healthy interpersonal relationships is a weak point here that leads to so much unwanted loneliness, heartache, mental illness, depression and even crime. Poor Japan. Maybe us gaikokujins can be a good influence in this way?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Living alone becoming a way of life for many, but that's not necessarily for worse

It sure isn't. Once you learn to love solitude you feel indestructible, nothing & no one can hurt or mess with you; no matter what everything is/will be all right.

Much healthier lifestyle than spending your whole life chasing ppl, being needy/clingy etc.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Much healthier lifestyle than spending your whole life chasing ppl, being needy/clingy

It’s the opposite extreme. Balance in between is the healthiest. Enjoying people without being dependent upon them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My partner is away on business about 40% of the time. Perfect.

I love the time alone and love the time with her. 100% of either would probably get on my nerves.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

PS: loving or even 'being ok' with solitude doesn't mean being asocial, having no friends/partner nor social interactions etc. Just means knowing you can cope with being alone and don't 'need' others in your life at all times (solitude isn't -for most ppl- a permanent state).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Humans are by nature social animals. Time alone is a good and necessary thing, but so is time with loved ones and friends.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

More Japanese living and dying alone too...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many of the women in our area over 70 years have already lost their husbands to disease. They live alone in large houses. But they do share and visit each other. I suggested to a group of them that they should all move into the same house together and sell off their others.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Living alone becoming a way of life for many...

...because this is the future. and it ,s happening. in Japan ... North America ... Europe ( most developed countries - not a coincidence ) ... millions of people are already extremely lonely... it ,s part of human evolution.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think that it is important to differentiate between living alone and being lonely. Living alone is do-able, so long as one is close to family and/or friends. In my experience few people like being alone all the time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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