Many of my favorite memories took place when I was alone. Not because I'm a solitary person, but because they represent moments that brought me closer to myself, if not then, in retrospect. In fact, I've found that solitude produces a distinct sense of intimacy, vulnerability, and honesty. When I was a kid, being home alone was always something to celebrate. As a 10-year-old, it was the only time I could passionately (and poorly) belt Les Miserables lyrics—ironically, "On My Own" was my go-to—though I took projecting seriously, so I'm sure our neighbors felt like they were right there with me.
But sometimes, as life gets more complicated, solitude yields loneliness instead of show tunes.
Occasionally, it quietly and unexpectedly sneaks up on me. But usually, when I find myself confusing solitude for loneliness, it's because being on my own no longer represents a brief escape from constant social interactions with family, friends, co-workers, or loved ones. Rather, it happens when I'm feeling unsure and insecure, usually subliminally. Heartache, homesickness, the loss of a friend, or trauma brought upon by forces outside our control make it harder to find joy and humor, especially when we're by ourselves.
But being happy alone, despite newfound singledom or any of the aforementioned obstacles isn't as farfetched as it sounds. With some constructive introspection and a lot of work to find meaning without relying on external resources, it's possible, and it's well worth the effort. Read on to discover the number one thing that taught me how to be happy alone, plus tips and motivational words of wisdom to help you love being on your own.
Step 1: Get In Touch With Yourself
This first tip has been the most transformative when it comes to being happy alone, especially if you're stuck in a rut. Practicing cognitive behavioral therapy–based tools will help alleviate emotional distress, and they can help you shift your mindset as you work on improving your relationship with yourself. Some techniques include working against negative thinking patterns by writing them down, challenging them, and replacing them with positive ones. Here are a few CBT-inspired ideas.
When You Miss Someone: Even in the healthiest relationships, we can lose track of certain parts of ourselves and what makes us feel content. I find that the most difficult part of a breakup or a falling out with a friend is suddenly not having that person to reminisce with or blaming yourself for the demise. But just because the relationship is over or strained doesn't mean that the memories have run off somewhere, disappeared, or that you've lost some essence of yourself. It can feel good to have someone validate your quirks and experiences, but not if you can't do so internally.
First, try jotting down some memories and affirmations. If you need some prompts, ask yourself questions like: What did we laugh about together? What did I learn from this person? What did they learn from me? What do I want to take with me, and what do I want to let go?
When You Feel Alone in a Crowded Room: Sometimes when we get in a funk, we assume that our closest friends or fun activities will bring us out of it. But nothing is worse than feeling lonelier with others than you did on your own. It's different from feeling stressed and anxious—it's more of an hyper-clear introspection. If you're not sure why you feel suddenly lonely, it might be because you've lost touch with yourself.
Perhaps you haven't worked through a past issue, emotional or otherwise, or maybe you don't feel like your values are in line with your lifestyle. Sometimes it just happens after a long week, but I find that communicating my headspace and confronting myself helps me get back on track and discover what motivates and fulfills me. Sometimes it reveals that I've been talking down to myself more than I realize, which might be the crux of the problem.
When You're Navigating a Transition: If you've just moved to a new city or switched jobs, you are likely experiencing a ton of "firsts" all at once. Once the chaos of the move or the training sessions has subsided, you may feel instantly invigorated, at ease, or incredibly isolated. Sometimes it's so overwhelming that you're not sure what to call it or how to shake it. Instead of offsetting your emotions, try to accept them and actively engage with them by reaching out to someone you trust or putting your thoughts on paper.
Describe the physical sensations, your new surroundings, and what you miss.
Step 2: Create a Happy Place for Yourself
If there are items in your room that remind you of a past relationship or if you haven't personalized your new room yet, a redecorating project could be just what you need. I'll let you in on a secret: When I first moved to my new apartment, I was so unhappy with my choice that I refused to hang up any art or photographs and only bought enough toilet paper to last a month at a time so it never felt permanent. Extreme measures. And while I thought it was a reassuring reminder that everything is temporary, it made me feel like a stranger in my own home.
I also love decorating and styling, so I was neglecting a big part of myself.
Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.
As I've mentioned, loneliness can be immobilizing. But hopefully, once you've gotten in touch with yourself and at least tried to identify the issue, you'll feel calmer and more energized. In the moment, creating a little sanctuary will occupy your mind and body, and long-term, it'll be an oasis that soothes and comforts you, which is essential to being happy on your own and surrounded by others. Customizing your living environment to your needs and tastes is also an act of self-love in and of itself since you are creating a space that's conducive to personal growth.
You don't need to spend a ton either. Splurging on your favorite candle, swapping out throw pillows, finding the right light bulbs, hanging up some artwork, and framing your family photos might be all it takes. And keeping your bathroom fresh and tidy never hurts.
Step 3: Make Changes, and Rediscover Passions
Now that you've refocused your energies and identified what is and isn't working in your life, it's time to make some changes and build new connections that make you happy. If you have fun doing the below activities with someone else, that's great, and if you enjoy them even more on your own, that's also great. The point is to feel connected to your surroundings and your personal passions.
- Cut out the toxic relationships in your life.
- Loved playing team sports when you were younger? Find a league in your area, or become a coach for a kid's team.
- Make a mood-boosting playlist to listen to next time you're down.
- Buy a cookbook you've had your eye on, and work through it by making one recipe a week.
- Sign up for some studio art classes at a local college or a private studio.
- Rewatch your favorite comedy series, or start a new one. There's nothing more refreshing and empowering than cracking up when you're by yourself.
But many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.
- Change up your dating routine, whether that means taking a break or challenging yourself to get back out there.
- Start gardening. Big outdoor spaces or even just a little corner in the kitchen to keep your homegrown herbs will do.
- Get involved in a cause that you care about, whether that means becoming more informed and spreading the word or getting out and volunteering.
- Blow off some steam by trying a few new workouts, and then start regularly practicing the one you like best.
- Check out Wag, and start walking dogs in your free time. There's nothing better than puppies and fresh air.
- Join a book club in your area, or start your own by asking around the office. And maybe even curling up with a good book on your own will do the trick.