Human beings are social animals, and much of what we do in life is deeply rooted in our need for bonds and connections with other people. This is why family is so important, we seek out and maintain friendships, and why we have romantic partners.
Being together is simply in our nature. And when our life seems to go against that nature, we start feeling lonely.
This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as moving away to a place where you don’t know people very well, having just gone through a breakup, or even feeling alone in a relationship or with your children. Or more recently, because of the pandemic.
Teresa Rodriguez on TEDx gave a fantastic speech about how to be happy alone:
In all of these cases and more, knowing how to be happy alone is a good skill to have. This doesn’t mean other people can’t make you happy, only that your happiness doesn’t have to depend on them.
It’s important to make a distinction between loneliness and being alone, also known as aloneness or solitude. It is possible to be by yourself and not feel lonely, just as it’s possible to be among others and feel lonely.
Few people ever want to be lonely, while being alone and happy can be a worthwhile goal. If this speaks to you, here are a few ways to learn how to be happy alone.
1. Don't Forget To Love Yourself
Some people believe they can only be happy in a relationship, that they simply cannot be happy alone and single. But if you believe you’re happy when loving and being loved, why not combine the two and simply love yourself?
It is very easy not to be self-loving. To criticize ourselves over tiny mistakes, regret what we did or didn’t do, or blame ourselves for being one way or another. Would you want to spend a lot of time with such a critic, or would you prefer someone nicer and overall more kind?
Kindness is a choice, and choosing to be kind to ourselves is a step towards being happy when we’re alone. Especially in difficult times, such as when we are alone after a divorce or alone without friends, self-love can sometimes make the difference between happiness and unhappiness.
Here are but a few of the many ways to practice kindness and self-love:
Recognize and accept your imperfections
There is nothing wrong with being imperfect. On the contrary – it means you’re real and human! It means you have life experience, like a weathered suitcase that has been through a whole bunch of airport conveyor belts.
Recognize that this is an inherent part of life and part of what makes you who you are. When you accept yourself the way you are, it is hard to be unkind to yourself.
Avoid comparisons with other people
We often compare ourselves only to the people in front of us, those who seem better off in some way. By doing so, we ignore people who are in the same boat as us and those who are worse off than us.
If our view of ourselves compared to others is distorted this way, we may as well not have it. You wouldn’t opt to use a hammer that only works for only a small selection of nails, would you?
Use words of affirmation
Using words of affirmation is to actively speak words that communicate love, kindness, and respect. In this case, to yourself. They work a bit like mantras and are meant to be repeated mindfully and repeatedly, either daily or several times a day. Examples include:
- I deserve to be happy.
- I accept myself the way I am, imperfections and all.
- I am open to receiving love.
- I am my own friend.
- The time I spend with myself is valuable.
While doing so may sound a bit strange, research shows that self-affirmation affects our brain in a positive way. Specifically, doing so activates the parts of the brain associated with self-processing and valuation, as well as future-oriented core values. In other words, it helps improve the way you perceive yourself and your future.
2. Discover Your Passion
The way we spend our time has a very significant effect on our happiness. When days go by uneventfully, with boredom at work being replaced in the afternoon by mindlessly binging on Netflix or scrolling on social media, we are not as happy as we could be.
It doesn’t have to stay this way, though. If we decide to spend as much time as we can doing things we enjoy, our time alone will make us happier overall.
The best part of finding your passion when you’re alone is: you’re alone! You are not restricted by the needs, wants, and time constraints of anyone else and have the freedom to do what makes you happy. Be as selfish as you want; there’s nothing wrong with that.
This isn’t limited to hobbies, though having a hobby you enjoy (or, if not, trying out new things that may become hobbies) is definitely recommended. But passion can be found on a much more basic level.
Finding your passion and enjoying it is choosing to eat food that you enjoy over food that just satiates your hunger. It is taking the longer scenic route over the shorter dull one. It is an attitude of valuing your enjoyment of the time you spend being awake to the fullest extent.
Take yourself on a date. Assume that success and failure are irrelevant to your enjoyment of any given activity, and simply go for it. How lonely can you feel when your time alone is simply enjoyable?
Learning how to be happy alone starts with actively prioritizing doing things that make you happy, your way.
3. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is a very powerful force, psychologically speaking. When we are grateful, we shape the way we see what we’re grateful for as positive and worthy of appreciation. This evokes positive thoughts and feelings in us. The more grateful we are in our daily life, the more this positive outlook becomes normal to us.
A lot of research has been done about gratitude and how it affects our psychology. Gratitude is associated with positive emotional functioning, positive social relationships, high life satisfaction, and lower dysfunction. It reduces our risk of developing mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Interestingly, gratitude was also found to be related to having a sense of living life meaningfully and authentically.
It’s not difficult to see why practicing gratitude is good for you. But where to start?
Fortunately, practicing gratitude is simple and easy. You can start by having a gratitude journal in which, once a day, you write three things you are grateful for. These things can be as big or small as you want them to be, from being grateful for your morning coffee to a positive chance encounter you’ve had.
Trust us, you’ll never run out of things to be grateful for, and the more you practice it, the easier it gets to find new ones and the better you’ll feel being by yourself.
4. Volunteer to Help Others
Volunteering often puts you in a situation where you are not alone but interacting with others. It is great for the community but also has substantial benefits to your mental health that remain while you’re on your own.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, people who had volunteered within the past year experienced higher life satisfaction and overall health regardless of how happy or unhappy they were before volunteering. Moreover, those who volunteered more frequently were found to experience greater benefits.
If you want to volunteer, it is best to research volunteer opportunities near you and find a good fit between what the community needs and what you can offer. Just like any new relationship or job, the first attempt isn’t guaranteed to work out, but it doesn’t mean you should stop trying.
5. Keep Your Body and Mind Healthy
Taking care of your health means taking care of both your physical health and your mental health, and the two are often very interconnected. Exercising regularly, for example, is a proven way to improve your mental health. A healthy diet is similarly important, and self-care practices such as meditation, yoga, and taking time off when you need to can all be part of your care toolkit.
However, it isn’t always easy to stay motivated in doing those things. This results in inertia and a lack of proper coping skills to deal with difficult situations, such as loneliness. Importantly, learning how to be happy alone is not something that must be done alone. Plenty of people reach out to professional help for that very reason and learn to be alone and happy with the help of counseling.
These days, thanks to online therapy, you can even do counseling from the comfort of your own home. Online therapy allows you to connect with therapists from across the country regardless of where you live or how far away you are from the nearest therapist that’s suitable for you. Online therapy can also be done completely anonymously if this is important to you.
Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely or unhappy. Being alone and happy is not only possible, but a good life skill to have. Finding your passion, practicing self-love and gratitude, volunteering, and taking care of your physical and mental health are all steps towards being happy by yourself.
If you want to talk to a therapist and get help in learning how to be happy alone, you can easily do so with DoMental online therapy. Our therapists are ready and willing to give you a helping hand.