In his book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience(1990), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes that good interpersonal relationships bring “flow experiences,” a high quality of life and happiness, but relationships involving conflict are probably the most depressing and dispiriting events anyone experiences. Yet, he notes, most people never explore solitude.
Why is solitude such a negative experience? The bottom-line answer is that keeping order in the mind from within is very difficult. We need external goals, external stimulation, external feedback to keep attention directed. And when external input is lacking, attention begins to wander, and thoughts become chaotic — resulting in the state we have called “psychic entropy.”
Hence the modern cycle of television, drugs, videos, games, shopping, overeating, sex, gambling — what become desperate methods for imposing external order on a chaotic mind. A positive solitude, however, is too difficult in Csikszentmihalyi’s scheme; he has only the goal of “flow” to offer, having written his book before the positive breakthrough of Anthony Storr’s Solitude and other books in rehabilitating the positive role of solitude.