In case you aren’t familiar with the acronym FOMO, the letters stand for “fear of missing out.” A new term that I recently discovered is JOMO, which stands for “joy of missing out.” I love this term!
As I write this, my French family is skiing in the Alps for 9 days. Had I wanted to, I could have come along, although skiing was never my sport.
My husband, Dick, was an excellent skier and even skied avalanche patrol for the US Forest Service. Alas, despite his patient coaching, the sport never took for me. Consequently, I had no problem giving it up.
If I didn’t ski, then my activities if I had gone would have been to enjoy the snow scenes, mountains, and blue skies—when it wasn’t snowing—and generally get a break from my routine.
The alternative was to stay at home alone. Given that most people leave on spring vacation to either ski or otherwise entertain themselves, the complex I live in would be mostly empty. Without many neighbors coming and going, I would really feel alone as well.
I’ve always been curious about how I would respond if I went on a silent retreat where no words were spoken for days at a time. I decided that my family’s absence would be an opportunity to engage in a limited experiment with the experience.
The first hour after they left, I was surprisingly sad, as if I’d been abandoned. But then, just as suddenly as the sadness appeared, a sense of freedom replaced it. Unburdened by the need to be sociable or even get up in the morning if I didn’t feel like it, I experienced a sense of joy—the joy of missing out.
On the first day, I didn’t get out of bed and, as a result, I didn’t get dressed. Hours passed in indolence were wonderful! I napped off and on, realizing only as the day wore on that I had been especially tired and needed this twenty-four-hour period of R&R.
Plenty of prepared food and fruit in the refrigerator kept me nourished. I had the freedom to eat when I was hungry and only the amount that was needed to satisfy the hunger.
In between naps, I read the news, reflected upon my current station in life, wrote in my diary, and updated my list of projects and tasks.
Since I woke up fully rested on the second day, I finished a variety of small projects and accomplished three hours of solid writing on my fourth novel, The First and Last Lesson. I also texted a friend and invited her to an early dinner on the following night.
Since then, I’ve averaged at least three hours of writing a day. I might have done more, but a conflicting priority during this time has been to enjoy the freedom to not work if I so choose.
It may sound as if I’m held captive by my family when they are here. That is not the case. I am as free as a bird. It is only my self-imposed obligations to them that holds me captive.
For instance, I try to cook one or two dinners a week since I eat so often at their home. And when a grandson stops by, I stop whatever I am doing and focus on being receptive. Besides, I’m grateful for their company.
The social obligations I have to my nearby family are not significant or overwhelming; suffice it to say, simply being part of a larger community inevitably impinges on my solitude.
Of course, I could have stayed in the United States and been extremely lonely all the time. Living with family two doors away is wonderful, and I don’t mean to denigrate the experience. At the same time, I seek to enjoy solitude when it occurs and hope that my family is enjoying choosing their own priorities without having to consider what I need or want.
I found six benefits of being alone on the Jed Foundation website, a site dedicated to reducing young adult suicides. Never mind that I’m a senior. The benefits, which I’ve personalized below, hold true for me as well.
“To thine own self be true” was Polonius’ advice in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This becomes an impossible task when I am bombarded by input—from real people to the internet and the various other sources of messages I receive. It is only in solitude that I can talk with myself honestly and with clarity.
Come Up with Solutions
Being alone also gives me time to think through alternative ways of coping. I can be creative in coming up with different ways I could add more happiness to my life and to the lives of those around me.
For instance, I thought of creating my own personal happiness calendar where I write down something to do each day that would be enjoyable or bring joy to someone. One of the items on my calendar was each day to say positive things to someone I talked to. Also, solutions simply pop up to problems I’d been thinking about days earlier.
Unless I was sick, I’ve never simply taken a day of rest in bed. On my recent day of rest, I did get out of bed to brush my teeth, comb my hair, take my prescriptions, and eat a bite. But other than that, I gave myself permission to do what I wanted whenever I thought of it.
The phone wasn’t going to ring, so I didn’t have to be bothered with that. And when someone surprisingly buzzed my door at noon, I didn’t answer. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I ignored it.
With open-ended hours in front of me, I had the time to imagine all sorts of different projects I might undertake, stories I might write, or places I might travel to. I also imagined how much fun it would be to get back in touch with people I’d lost track of. (I already wrote to one of them and received a wonderful reply.)
Solid Blocks of Time to Write
Writing requires concentration. I find it hard to write in short segments of time (like a half-hour or forty-five minutes). Having an open-ended schedule without interruption allows me to get far more writing done than I could otherwise.
The most beneficial aspect of time alone, however, is that it allows me to reboot. I slow down and become more relaxed. I’m not “on” during my solitude. And since I’m not “on,” I become calmer and more comfortable in my own skin. It’s as if I have closed down and, after closing down, I can reboot my system.
Of course, I am not really alone when I’m alone. I have technology at my fingertips: a cell phone, landline phone, laptop with the internet, and television. I’ve fielded a couple of phone calls, and I’ve sent and received dozens of messages. I’ve binge-watched several Netflix series, I’ve had a friend visit me, and I went to tea yesterday with new French friends. Being unhooked completely from technology and any socializing would, I think, be a real stretch for me. That might be too much “aloneness” for my psyche to handle.
But for certain, I’m enjoying my nine days of more-or-less solitude and I’m a convert to JOMO, the joy of missing out.
What about you?
Cover photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash