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Much to the surprise of my friends off campus and on, I decided to spend Thanksgiving week alone in Harvard Yard this past November.
In my dorm room, I watched the final season of The Crown without headphones, and laughed without having to worry about disturbing my roommates. On Thanksgiving Day, I walked from Harvard Square to Boston’s Chinatown and back without company.
While some might call these moments lonely, I felt fulfilled.
When I arrived at Harvard, I felt eager but also pressured to put myself out there at all times. Though I have always considered myself an introvert, I was sucked into the culture of constant social presentation alongside my new classmates.
At Harvard and beyond, we are expected to be on at all times. Whether that be in the halls of our dorms, walking through Harvard Yard, or studying in Widener Library, we are constantly surrounded by other people.
When we step back to take some time alone, we’re often met with concern: “Where have you been?”; “Are you okay?”; “Let me know if you need to talk.”
While these gestures are well-meaning, they reinforce the notion that we only want to be alone if there is something wrong — that there’s something a little bit pathological about introversion.
That’s not right. We should all be taking time to ourselves, and not just when we’re at a breaking point.
That quiet Thanksgiving break — the first proper alone time I’d had since college began — reminded me why I need solitude: It helps me feel grounded. Mining gold ore on Minecraft with Britney Spears blasting, I remembered life before college — before I entered the always-moving, hyper-social Harvard bubble.
Break ended, but this change in my mentality didn’t. As my first semester progressed, I found myself more prepared to reject invitations to study with friends in Lamont Library or attend weekend gatherings when I really just wanted to spend time alone.
Despite the peace I felt while alone and the reassuring knowledge that more opportunities to socialize would inevitably come, I still struggled to shake the guilt I felt each time I rejected a social interaction.
That many people feel this way is a serious problem, not least because a growing body of evidence demonstrates the importance of alone time.
Time spent away from social settings (within reason) has the ability to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. It can also help us to develop a stronger sense of self, separate of how others picture us or desire us to be.
Additionally, researchers have documented that alone time can foster creativity. It is unlikely a coincidence that many great artists and academics have credited alone time as a source of solace and inspiration.
Of course, feeling lonely isn’t a good thing. But alone time doesn’t entail problems with feeling alone.
In fact, a 2020 report by Harvard’s Task Force on Managing Student Mental Health found that Harvard students’ isolation and loneliness result in part from pressures to work harder and do more — an issue that normalizing unproductive time to oneself could help solve.
As with all things, alone time is best in moderation. I am calling not for forgoing crucial time spent with friends but rather for reframing our attitude toward solitude. Unstructured alone time is just as valid a form of self-care as socializing. To find true balance, most of us need both.
At an institution where students face unique pressures to make themselves and their successes known, it’s essential to protect and advocate for your alone time.
Whether you prefer a daily walk, solo trips into Boston on the T, or laying on your dorm floor while you listen to a favorite album, consider the possibility that moments spent alone can — without guilt or shame — be your moments of greatest joy.
Go, take a moment to yourself. You deserve it.
Jasmine N. Wynn ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Thayer Hall.
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