How to be happy alone: 10 tips for being content by yourself
Learning how to be happy alone can be difficult. Here, two psychologists reveal the practical steps to take
Learning how to be happy alone is a process we all should go through, whether we're in a relationship or not. It's important to be able to spend time by yourself and enjoy your own company, without feeling the need to be constantly surrounded by others.
Many equate being alone with feeling lonely - but it certainly doesn't have to be this way. Once you get content with being by yourself, there are so many benefits to be had, including chances for personal growth and better relationships in the future.
But being happy alone - whether that's physically being without a romantic partner, friends, or family, or being surrounded by people but without close connection - isn't something that's been taught to many of us, health psychologist Joanna Konstantopoulou points out. It can be easier said than done. "Social conditioning impacts how people see relationships as it shapes their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward romantic relationships especially," she says. "When someone grows up in an environment that promotes the myth that happiness is only achieved through relationships, they struggle with their self-worth when they don't have a relationship."
Whether by situation or by choice, it is entirely possible to learn how to be happy alone. Here, Konstantopoulou and other psychologists reveal the ways to switch your understanding of alone time to better benefit your life. From learning how to be more confident to learning how to deal with loneliness, this is what they have to say.
How to be happy alone
1. Develop a better understanding of yourself
To be able to spend time by yourself, you need to work out what it is you enjoy doing alone, says Konstantopoulou, who is also the founder of the Health Psychology Clinic.
"Take the time for some reflection, avoid negative self-talk, and find alignment with your values," she suggests. "Do activities that promote a better version of yourself, such as journaling, mindfulness, therapy, and yoga." This should help you also develop the mind-body connection required to truly get in touch with what you want and need.
2. Focus on your environment
Living alone? It's important to make that space all about you, says Nova Cobban, psychologist and coach. "Wherever and however you live, make that space somewhere you love to be, somewhere that reflects who you are and works well for you," she says. "Take pleasure in your own space because it can have a huge effect on how you feel."
This could mean something as little as reorganizing your bedroom or as much as totally redecorating to bring a new style and feel to your home that feels a little more 'you'. For advice, take a look at our expert tips on how to organize a small space and other home organization tips.
3. Avoid comparing yourself to others
Comparison is the thief of joy, the saying goes, and it's so true. Social media can offer a lot of good to our lives, like the chance to keep up with long-distance friends, make new connections, and get inspiration, but researchers widely agree that it causes a lot of mental and emotional difficulties too. A systematic review by the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology, for example, found a concrete link between social media envy and the risk of anxiety and depression.
Sure, in theory, we know that comparing ourselves to others is pointless. Not everyone has the same number in their bank account, the same 24 hours in a day, or the same resources available to them, so why would our lives look the same? We also know that people only tend to show the best sides of their lives on social media. However, scrolling through Instagram can give us the impression that everyone else is having a better time than us - even if we thought we were doing fine.
Feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) crop up as a result, which by itself has been linked to worse mental health outcomes. In a study linked with the Clarion Psychiatric Center in Pennslyvania, researchers found a direct correlation between social media use, FOMO, and a decline in productivity, sleep disturbances, social anxiety, and clinical depression.
So, if you're looking to learn how to be happy alone and you regularly use social media, try to avoid comparing yourself to others. And if you find this difficult, take a break from social media for a while to retune yourself to your own life and all it has to offer.
4. Pursue your passions
This is a time of your life when you have a huge level of freedom and independence, says Cobban, so think about what you want to do with this time. "What would you like to achieve that would not be as easy or as possible if you had to consider other people’s preferences to a greater degree?" she asks. "Setting goals helps us move toward something that we care about and give our lives a sense of purpose which is great for wellbeing."
Doing so involves engaging more in activities that bring you personal fulfillment, adds Konstantopoulou. "Focus on learning a new skill or set career goals and work toward them."
5. Develop a regular exercise routine
Being active, in whatever way works for you, can be key to finding happiness by yourself. Working out offers so many health benefits, with walking as a workout alone boosting endorphins, increasing mental alertness, and improving overall mood, according to research in association with the University of Exeter.
But exercise can also be a great way to meet people. Whether it's joining a Nordic walking group, signing up for a run club, going to yoga class, or learning how to start weightlifting, active environments are often some of the best places to make new connections given the shared interest and time spent together.
6. Remember to put yourself first
When spending time alone, it can be easy to over-commit to some areas of your life - especially those where others are relying on you. Try to find a balance, the experts suggest, and remember that spending time with yourself is just as important as spending time with others.
"Find out what elevates your happiness levels and make time for these activities in your day so that you don’t over-resource your time and energy in one area of your life to the detriment of another," says Cobban. "If you find yourself working late into the night because there is no one asking for your attention, then remember that there is someone else needing attention - you."
7. Lean into the benefits of being alone
Day-to-day, there are many benefits to being by yourself. Practically speaking, you're not relying on anyone else for your own happiness and they're not relying on you. This frees you up from obligation and compromises in one area of your life - much of your time is completely your own.
"Single people can have more confidence to plan their day and do things they love without pressure from their partner. This cultivates personal growth and self-discovery," says Cobban. "They are often also able to nurture deeper, more meaningful friendships, they may have less stress because of fewer concepts, and better health because they are more active."
8. Improve your social connections
While this may not be possible for everyone who is struggling with being by themselves, if you've just got out of a serious long-term relationship or you've moved to a new area where you're lacking close friends and family, reaching out to expand your social circle could be the way forward.
"Find old or new friends to develop strong relationships and invest in group activities to broaden your social network," says Konstantopoulou.
Going back to the positives of social media, platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be great places to explore your local community and all it has to offer - without having to leave the house. Think about finding a new hobby, what do you enjoy doing? Everything from hiking collectives to charities looking for volunteer cooking groups, there's bound to be an established one close to you full of people who enjoy doing these things too and are looking for others to join. It's one of the best ways to learn how to make friends as an adult.
9. Make your own plans for the future
Just because you don't have a travel buddy doesn't mean you can't go on holiday. Sure, it might look a little different, but it can still be fun. Finances dependent, investing in a home doesn't need to come with a life partner. Brunch is still brunch, even without the company.
When learning how to be happy alone, being self-reliant is so important, says Cobban. "When you have to make life work on your own, without someone else to rely on, you have to become self-reliant. This is a huge benefit in life, when you are resilient you manage change with less stress, and you experience less negative emotions whilst you are dealing with stress too," she says. For those dealing with stress and exhaustion, and looking for how to recover from burnout, this can be essential.
"Resilient people also tend to find a way to meet challenges head-on and deal with them, which makes them highly desirable in the workplace and also, leads to them being more successful at building lasting relationships."
10. Don't be afraid to ask for help
All that said, some people will find being alone harder than others, whether that's because of personal circumstances, mental health difficulties, or personality type.
For example, according to one well-established theory by psychiatrist Carl Jung, is that we can all be divided into two main personality types: introverts and extroverts. Those who are extroverted seek and receive their emotional energy from others, while introverts find that internally within themselves. Naturally, there are people who flit between the two and sit on the middle ground, but largely we fit more into one category or the other. Those who are more extroverted, as a result of this personality type, may struggle more with being happy alone than those who are more introverted.
No matter the reason why you're alone, it's important to seek help if you're struggling. Consult a psychologist or a therapist, or speak to your regular health practitioner for advice.
The psychology of being happy alone
Why is it hard to be happy alone? As much as the introvert vs extrovert theory will ring true for many, there are several psychological reasons why we tend to avoid being by ourselves as a society.
"We are deeply connected to our cultural norms and societal expectations, we are also driven by our nature as human beings," explains Cobban. "Each of these influential pieces of our external and internal world tells us that being alone is not good for us, that we need someone in our lives who is psychologically linked to us and emotionally in tune with us so that we have a better chance of survival."
In millennia gone by, that survival was physical. Today, it's more social than anything else, the psychologist says, and it can be one of the main causes of relationship anxiety. "It’s now much more about thriving than surviving and showcasing how well you are doing at that to everyone," she says. "So you can see that within this perspective, we would have a strong sense that we need to be with someone in order to socially thrive, and without social thriving, we fear there will be fewer opportunities, less acceptance, less financial reward, and many other fears connected to not being in a relationship. However, for the most part, these fears are not connected to what is actually true."
How can I be alone without feeling lonely?
- Keep to a routine: During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people found comfort in the familiarity of a daily routine. Now, there's research on it. According to National Taiwan University, organizing our activities every single day can help us be more resistant to the onset of feelings of loneliness.
- Find things to look forward to: Loneliness often comes from the feeling of being disconnected from the world around you. Make plans, whether that's by yourself or with others, during your alone time so you have something to look forward to in the next few days or weeks. It can be one of the biggest confidence boosters around.
- Fill your space with sound: If the quiet of being home alone makes you feel lonely, move around with some sound in the background. That could be music, the voice of a friend or family member over the phone, a podcast, or your favorite television show.
- But consume content mindfully: With this sound, try to avoid content that speaks of subjects you might find upsetting - such as the news, current affairs podcasts, and documentaries dealing with troubling subjects. Instead, try to choose content that offers you positive feelings or feelings that you crave from other people.
- Figure out your attachment style: "People with an anxious attachment style seek intimacy to reassure their self-worth. When they don’t have a relationship, they feel lonely, rejected, and not good enough," says Konstantopoulou. When you know your attachment style, you can better understand what you need from your relationships.
When to ask for help
As noted, some people will find learning how to be happy alone harder than others. "If you find yourself feeling lonely because you have reduced your normal daily activities or interactions and have stopped enjoying them, it's a good idea to seek some support," advises Cobban. "It might be that you feel lonely because you feel disconnected from your emotions or needs, and this too would be a sign to seek some support."
For anyone feeling a sense of loneliness (as opposed to solitude) then it's always important to seek help, even if that's just by joining a community or a local club, she adds. "If loneliness is affecting your mental health or stopping you from living your day-to-day life in any way, then a chat with your health practitioner would be recommended."
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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