Is it okay to be lonely

Psychology: what distinguishes being alone from loneliness

The sherry slowly pearls into the pewter cups. One after the other, everyone at the long table is poured: the self-confident Sir Toby, the short-spoken Admiral von Schneider, Mister Pommeroy with the high voice and finally the talkative but mumbling Mister Winterbottom. Then they toast: to the well-being of Miss Sophie, who sits at the head of the table and turns 90 today. Only: none of these gentlemen is actually present.

Miss Sophie outlived all of her friends. So she sits alone at the table - and James, her loyal servant, takes on the role of one-time companion. The sherry is followed by the white wine, the white wine by the champagne, this is followed by the port wine. Both know that the celebration is a staging - "the same procedure as every year", says Miss Sophie. She leaves the table full and happy that everything was as it always was, and James drunk - after all, he had to drink for four.

"Dinner for One" is a New Year's Eve classic in Germany and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most frequently repeated program in television history. The elderly Miss Sophie of the British upper class is undoubtedly quite alone - as are many elderly people whose family members and friends are no longer alive. But she is not lonely: Despite everything, she celebrates her special day and finds, in her own absurd but charming way, a way to feel connected to other people.

Loneliness is the worst punishment

It is extremely important to distinguish between being alone and loneliness, emphasizes John Cacioppo, the most accomplished loneliness researcher in the world. Because initially both have nothing to do with each other. Loneliness, says the psychologist from the University of Chicago, is not linked to the presence and absence of people. It is also not tied to the number of people you know. Those who are lonely are not simply missing people - but rather the feeling of being noticed by them, recognized and needed. It characterizes a deep dissatisfaction with the relationships that already exist.