Most American adults have spent a non-trivial amount of time being untethered to other people. Almost everyone has spent at least a few years being single or otherwise socially “alone” – often due to relocating or starting over in a new place.
While some people get a lot of enjoyment out of these more independent years, for others, the absence of a stable social environment is an emotional struggle. If you’re having a hard time feeling happy on your own, try the strategies listed below. They all have cognitive benefits, and none of them include dating!
1. Get emotionally on-board with your alone-ness
Alone-ness, in and of itself, is a neutral experience. It can be made a positive experience (“solitude” or “privacy”) if you’ve embraced it and feel in control of it. It can be a negative experience (“loneliness” or “isolation”) if you believe it means there’s something wrong with you.
The first step to being happy alone is to accept and embrace the fact that you’re alone. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re unlikeable or unlovable. It simply means that, for now, relationships won’t be the center of your world… and that’s fine.
2. Develop a relationship with yourself
It’s a mistake to think that you can only have a meaningful relationship with another person. The old adage that “the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself” will never ring more true than when you’re in a period of alone-ness.
To strengthen your relationship with yourself, make an effort to get to know yourself better. Ask yourself: What do I really value in life? What do I need more of? What do I need to be done with? What’s next for me?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can start providing yourself with the emotional support and encouragement needed to pursue your newly-identified goals.
3. Let your passions run free
When you’re in a committed relationship or constantly around a lot of people, you may notice that your list of “passions” starts to conform to what those around you enjoy. For example, if your boyfriend loves wine, you may find yourself suddenly more passionate about wine than you otherwise would be.
While this is not at all a bad thing, time to yourself creates an opportunity to explore some of your less mainstream (or less “impressive”) passions. Want to binge on all the Harry Potter books? Do it! Want to try out every sushi place in the tri-state area? Why not? This is the time to do it!
4. Make plans with yourself
One of the more difficult things about being alone is the absence of regular events to look forward to. When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy to plan a regular date night. When you have a strong circle of friends, it’s easy to arrange recurring Sunday brunch. When you’re alone, it’s harder to establish these types of routines.
To counteract the “no plans” blues, pick out some things you like to do and then build them into your day in a predictable way. For example, walk to your favorite coffee shop every morning and take a steaming hot bath every night. By creating your own routines, you’ll introduce that “I’m looking forward to that” feeling back into your life.
5. Get physical affection where you can
Neuroscience has shown that physical touch is extremely important for happiness and well-being. For obvious reasons, this area of life can become sorely lacking when you’re alone.
To avoid the negative effects of physical alone-ness, give special attention to building physical affection into your life wherever you can. One way to do this is through hugs. If you meet up with even a casual acquaintance, be sure to end the encounter with a nice long hug. You’ll instantly get a rush of happy chemicals in the brain!
6. Make yourself proud
One of the beauties of being alone is that you can live by your own standards. When you’re not beholden to other people, it’s easier to stop living by other people’s expectations of what you should be doing. This creates an opportunity to get clear on what you really – in your heart – expect from yourself.
Knowing what you expect from yourself allows you to start putting these expectations into action. With some effort, you can meet your own expectations and make yourself proud.
If and when you find yourself socially alone, use these strategies to start seeing your situation as an opportunity. It’s a time to grow and become the person you really want to be.
The truth is, you won’t be alone forever. And when you start re-connecting with people, you’ll cherish the memories of your time alone!