Many would agree that humans have become more isolated from one another.
Loneliness is not confined to the fringes of society. Even the hustle and bustle of crowded city streets masks a silent issue that exists in the corners of our homes and the chasms of our minds.
Loneliness is not only widespread - a Red Cross survey discovered that 1 in 5 UK adults felt lonely frequently or all of the time - but it’s also not as benign or innocuous as many perceive. The negative impacts of loneliness on both our physical and mental health have come to the fore in recent years.
The great irony about loneliness is that anyone suffering from loneliness is anything but alone. It’s also curious that loneliness can be hard to describe or understand despite being so common.
Pension Times has a dedicated section on the subject of loneliness.
Here are 15 quotes that describe the various nuances and intricacies of loneliness, solitude and isolation.
“If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world” - Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf, one of the all-time greats, wrote extensively about her battles with loneliness, or “seeing to the bottom of the vessel”. In her a writer’s diary, Woolf discusses the intrinsic link between creativity and loneliness extensively.
Perhaps most interesting in Woolf's investigations of loneliness is the links she draws between the business of the outside world, her success, and the continuing sensation of loneliness that lies within her.
This marks the pervasive effects of loneliness, that it can be enduring and unerring in its influence.
“The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness” - Norman Cousins
American writer, journalist and world peace advocate Norman Cousins came up with this excellent quote on loneliness.
Perhaps there is a good deal of truth to it as humans, after all, are social and gregarious creatures.
Sociologists and philosophers have pondered why humans have begun to live increasingly isolated lives, choosing to live alone rather than in collective communities.
Despite our increasing tendency to live alone, most of us yearn for a sense of belonging. We want to feel valued, but we also want to create value for others.
This is perhaps what Norman Cousins alludes to - our innate desire to belong to those whom we value and who value us.
“What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” - George Eliot
George Eliot was the pen name of Victorian author Mary Ann Evans.
This quote echoes that of those who describe loneliness on sites like Quora and Reddit today. You can find some of these descriptions in our article “What does loneliness feel like?”
Commenters here frequently describe loneliness as a disconnection from others and, at worst, a severance of trust. This can be genuinely isolating and necessitates discovering individuals who can help us trust again, which Mary Ann Evans suggests in her work.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty” - Mother Teresa
The enduring wisdom of Mother Teresa needs little introduction.
This quote underlines how loneliness strikes those in poverty, but also how poverty strikes those in loneliness. We shouldn’t forget how anyone, regardless of background or social status, can suffer from loneliness.
“At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one's lost self” - Brendan Behan
Irish poet and writer Brendan Behan was named one of the most important Irish writers in history by Irish Central.
He had what most would consider a deeply troubled life, which perhaps adds some perspective to this loneliness quote.
Loneliness can help us illuminate hidden traits, emphasising challenging yet important parts of our innermost personality.
“Everybody has something that chews them up and, for me, that thing was always loneliness. The cinema has the power to make you not feel lonely, even when you are” - Tom Hanks
Yet another quote that epitomises how common loneliness is and how it’s indiscriminate to fame and success, just as Virginia Woolf described.
Tom Hanks became very emotional on BBC4’s Desert Island Discs when speaking of feeling lonely as a young man.
This is also a great example of how one can progress away from their feelings of loneliness in time.
“Solitude is pleasant. Loneliness is not” - Anna Neagle
A simple quote by British film star and actress Anna Neagle - Dame Florence Marjorie Wilcox - but a significant one in the context of the modern debate around loneliness.
There are clear lines between the terms "loneliness", "alone", "isolation", and "solitude".
Many great loneliness and quotes about feeling alone highlight these differences too;
“There's a difference between solitude and loneliness.” - Maggie Smith.
“Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich
Tom Hanks also said, “There's a difference between solitude and loneliness. I can understand the concept of being a monk for a while.”
Vivek Murthy, who served as the US Surgeon General, summed the differences up well;
“Loneliness is different than isolation and solitude. Loneliness is a subjective feeling where the connections we need are greater than the connections we have. In the gap, we experience loneliness. It's distinct from the objective state of isolation, which is determined by the number of people around you.” - Vivek Murthy.
It’s widely regarded that loneliness is the more negative manifestation of social isolation and feeling alone. Therefore, loneliness should be treated with great respect, care and attention, and it’s something that we should try and look after in ourselves and others.
“Times may have changed, but there are some things that are always with us - loneliness is one of them” - Laurie Graham
This loneliness quote describes how loneliness exists within the human psyche and probably always has. This is an interesting subject to ponder, as humans choose to live alone now more than ever.
That said, early humans were likely heavily isolated from one another, and it would have taken thousands of years for those early humans to form connected communities. So does loneliness linger as an evolutionary throwback to these early prehistoric humans?
In more recent history, some anthropologists and sociologists believe that the power to be alone was hard-won. Fewer of us are jam-packed into squalid conditions with no personal space than at any point since the 12th or 13th centuries.
As always, there are two sides to the coin - it might be that loneliness is one of the prices we pay for our reasonably safe and secure modern lives.
Is there a positive side to feeling alone?
Whilst it’s tempting to construe loneliness as wholly negative and unpleasant, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The fact that more of us are aware of loneliness is a significant step towards defeating it.
What’s more, is that numerous people do stand by their loneliness or even embrace it.
Loneliness has long been viewed as potentially fertile, even inspiring, especially to the many artists, philosophers, writers, scientists and business people who have battled and bathed in their own loneliness.
To try and bring some positive perspective to loneliness, here are some positive loneliness quotes:
Positive loneliness quotes
“Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better” - Henry Rollins
Punk frontman, writer and actor Henry Rollings has a point here. Loneliness can provide clarity. It helps us reflect on beautiful moments that hide under the surface when we're with others.
This inquisitive, subtle side of loneliness helps animate the positive experiences of those who engage in solo travel and similar exploits.
Perhaps this partly explains why loneliness fosters creativity in some - it adds definition to the beautiful things we forget.
“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they're big, flashing signs that something needs to change” - Gretchen Rubin
This is an excellent perspective on loneliness from American author Gretchen Rubin.
Many remedies to loneliness centre around taking personal action. Not only does doing something take our mind off our loneliness, but it also creates new moments and opportunities that can alter the course of our lives.
Taking brave action to remedy loneliness by volunteering, travelling or joining groups or clubs all feature in our guides on how to reduce loneliness, 7 ways to deal with loneliness and avoiding feeling lonely at Christmas.
“We can all fight against loneliness by engaging in random acts of kindness” - Gail Honeyman
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone that disagrees with the sentiment here.
Random acts of kindness can change people’s day, or even their week, month, year or life. Even smiling at others in the street has a potent psychological effect that can change their neurochemistry for the remainder of the day.
What’s more is that when you’re kind to someone, they’re compelled to be kind to others themselves.
This can have a powerful domino effect that quite literally spreads kindness like a wave or ripple.
Who knows how long that wave of kindness lasts before it dissipates, or how many you might impact with a random act of kindness that changes someone’s day.
“I've never thought about songwriting as a weapon. I've only thought about it as a way to help me get through love and loss and sadness and loneliness and growing up” - Taylor Swift
Multi-award-winning singer-songwriter Taylor Swift highlights the inspirational side of loneliness, showing how it acts as a powerful fuel for creative endeavours.
Songwriting, writing, art, reading, hobbies of all kinds can help us through lonely times in life.
As many allude to in their quotes on loneliness, loneliness can spur significant changes and life transitions. The key is to be proactive and pragmatic.
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself” - Michel de Montaigne
French renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influential philosophers in the Western world. In addition, he was a great traveller and would have certainly led many lonely expeditions throughout antiquity Europe and beyond.
Here, de Montaigne highlights how oneself is an important concept in being alone. Being alone can help us better learn ourselves, which might be one of the most important things we can do.
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion” - Albert Camus
Another Frenchman, Albert Camus, was a tremendously influential philosopher and author. This quote draws attention to the intellectual stimulus of being alone, loneliness or solitude.
Quiet moments of reflection can be powerful and memorable experiences that consolidate our understanding. It’s important to remember that being alone serves as both a state and a tool.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more” - Lord Byron
To end on a poem, Byron here highlights how nature itself encapsulates the essence of loneliness.
The beauty of solitude lives all around us; immersing oneself in nature is a powerful antidote for loneliness. It connects us to the living and keeps us existing in the here and now.
Tying into this is astronomer Carl Sagan’s famous 1990s monologue ‘Of a Dot’, where he describes the Earth as seen from the Voyager probe at a distance of some 6 billion kilometres.
Here, Earth looks very lonely indeed, but it is a crucial reminder that we share this world and are never truly alone.