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Does Happiness Live In A Quiet Room?

August 8, 2012


The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Pascal

This is a curious quote, and certainly counter to common wisdom, which tells us that connections and community are the road to bliss while solitude and silence lead to serial killing.

Of course, I’m being facetious. As an introvert, I’m all for staying quietly in one’s room, and I find solitude not only pleasant, but necessary. Staying quietly in my room is easy. But has that inoculated me from unhappiness? Of course not.

Granted, Pascal is not saying that solitude prevents unhappiness, only that the inability to be alone is the cause of unhappiness. And not just a cause, the sole cause.

That’s big talk.  I don’t buy it.

Avoiding solitude may perpetuate unhappiness. With lots of running around, we can distract ourselves from important matters, staying too busy to hear our little inner voice begging for whatever it is we need most. Unless of course what we need most is lots of people.

But solitude has drawbacks too. Some people are a little too good at sitting quietly in their rooms and ruminating, which is a risk factor for depression. And often when rumination starts taking you to bad places, getting out and connecting with people is a good way to abort that downward spiral.

I suppose this quote is sort of a corollary to “An unexamined life is not worth living” (sez Socrates). I believe this to be true. Examining my life is one of my favorite pastimes, in solitude or not. But an examined life neither guarantees nor precludes happiness. It can only help point the way to happiness and meaning. Then we have to make it happen, which may or may not require leaving our room. I would venture to say it almost certainly will require stepping out at some point, although you may feel free to convince me otherwise.

Introverts and extroverts can get pretty testy with each other—I see it happen all the time on my blog about introversion. Introverts can be, frankly, kind of defensive. They’ve been told their way is wrong for so long, some of them lash out a bit, dissing extroverts as shallow and unevolved. So this quote will probably appeal to them. I get it.

I guess my main beef with the quote is the word “sole.” (And “in his room.” Solitude is perfectly nice in other locales, too.) That seems to be overstating the matter a bit. Sure, the ability to spend time alone is good for our mental and emotional well-being, But happiness and unhappiness are far too complex to be attributable to one cause. Everything in moderation. Some solitude, some company, some time in your room, some time out of it. Balance is best.

Spending time alone is great and I believe everyone should develop the ability. But it can’t work miracles.

My book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.


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