If you constantly hear that you need to be in a relationship to be happy, surrounded by friends at all times, you’re far from alone. “Many people don’t realize,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book Joy From Fear, “that you can be very happy alone and also quite unhappy in the company of others.” The truth is, happiness always starts with you, and being happy alone is possible, even if it doesn’t seem that way now.
With that in mind, it’s important to understand that a relationship isn’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to happiness: being in one isn’t a cure for what ails you, and being out of one doesn’t mean you’ll be unhappy until the next one rolls around. Admittedly, this is a truth that can often be lost in the parade of happy-seeming couples both in the media, on your Instagram feed, and seated next to you at the café. Lest you despair, however, we’ve compiled a list of the most effective ways to make sure your days alone are some of the most fulfilling yet. So read on, and enjoy your “me time!”
“Too many singles define their worth by their marital status, and feel that they have to wait to purchase a new car, a home, or travel until they get married,” says Miranda N. Dennis, LCSW at Oasis Clinical Counseling Services. Instead, she says, she “urges singles to live their life now,” rather than waiting for a partner to come along first.
If you find yourself often spending time alone, says Dr. Manly, make sure to “compliment yourself on being a great companion.”
By noticing—and commenting on—the best parts of ourselves, she says, it’s much easier to feel good when we’re our own only pal. “After all,” she explains, “we often compliment our friends on their positive traits, so it makes perfect that [we] would like a dose of affirmation, too!”
“Arrange once a week, once a month, quarterly, or whatever you prefer, to have a dinner party,” says author and social worker Frances Metzman. Each friend that’s invited can pitch in with cooking, setting up, or even cleaning the dishes. The important part is having a get-together to look forward to which can remind each member of your crew (including yourself) just how important you are. And for a twist, she says, have each friend “take a turn to invite an outside person or couple to join.”
“Create a list of solo activities that are enjoyable,” says Dr. Manly, and “keep [it] handy.” By doing so, she explains, “time alone doesn’t become a penalty but an opportunity” to engage in one of these fun activities. If you’re ever feeling sorry for yourself, simply pull out this list and remind yourself of all of the things you can do. And remember: Your married friends with children don’t have this luxury!
“Don’t be afraid of going to a movie [or] play by yourself, or going to a restaurant,” says Metzman. Though it may appear intimidating at first, she explains, “I have gone alone to several,” and has remained unscathed. And think about it: Do you need to have a friend with you to watch a movie in a dark room? Do you need a companion to eat a simple meal when a good book will do just fine? And remember: if someone seated nearby is also alone, she encourages, don’t hesitate to make a friendly remark.
Being alone, says Dr. Manly, is “[an] opportunity to explore the things you love.” For example, she explains, “if you love music, spend time online exploring genres and bands you’ve not listened to before.” Now that you’ve got a bit of time to yourself, it’s time to fill that space with the things that bring you happiness.
“We can get so hung up in our heads wishing we were in a relationship,” says Erica McCurdy, an ICF Certified life coach, “we forget to enjoy the moment.” One of the best ways to get ourselves out of this negative mindset, she says, is to “remind ourselves that even if we were in a relationship, we would still have a lot of times where we would be doing things on our own.”
“Many people,” says Dr. Manly, “consciously or unconsciously believe that it’s abnormal to be alone or that being alone makes them ‘defective’ or ‘unwanted’ in some way.” In reality, however, those who can be alone, she explains, “often possess excellent inner confidence and serenity.” Rather than a handicap, then, solitude can be a badge of honor.
“I often ask my [single] clients,” says Kelly Bos, a relationship expert and psychotherapist, “how they might live if they knew that they would be in a relationship in a set amount of days, months or years.” Their response, she explains, is often that “they would be able to relax and focus on their goals.”
Though no one can guarantee that a new relationship is bound to come, her example illustrates just how much worrying about being alone in the future—rather than the realities of being single now—can negatively affect one’s experience of being by themselves.
Now that you have some time to yourself, says Bos, it’s a good idea to “identify ways in which you want to challenge yourself to grow as a person.” Whether it’s your health, your lifestyle, or even your spirituality, now’s the time “to outline goals for yourself and then start to pursue them.”
As the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. As an out-of-school adult, how often have you wished your basic knowledge of things you studied in school—history, science, math, literature—was deeper?
There’s no better time than when you’re single, says Metzman, to “take one or two courses.” Whether it’s “in the evening after work or an afternoon when you are free,” she explains, “there are many colleges that have non-credit courses.”
If you find yourself wondering what to do with your solo time, says Metzman, try “volunteer[ing] at some non-profit organization that can use your help.” The fact is, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that align with virtually any interest, and the organizations themselves will be more than happy to have you around. Oh, and speaking of classes: Research has shown time and again that volunteering is one of the surefire ways to boost your mood. It’s one of life’s greatest win-wins!
Instead of romanticizing the imaginary partner you’ve yet to meet, says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Just one example of the many benefits of being single, she explains, is “you get to spend your time how you like to spend it, without having to compromise with a partner.”
“The first step to being happy alone is to realize that there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone,” says Angela Carson, a JRNI life coach. While the first would call for introducing more people and activities into your life, she explains, the latter is a “wonderful opportunity to use this time to explore your authentic self and build the life that you dream of.”
“Being single can be hard,” admits Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics. The good news? “It can be enjoyable, too!”
To make the most of your time alone, Backe recommends beginning an exercise regimen. “Sticking to a routine,” he explains, “will make you feel accomplished and proud,” while the benefits to your health and appearance “will have you feeling really good about yourself, too.”
When you’re single, you may find that you have more time to cruise Instagram. But don’t fall into the trap of envying other peoples’ lives.
One of first steps toward being happy alone, says Dr. Kara Fasone, co-founder and Chief Wellness Officer at Wise & Well Academy, is to stop comparing yourself to “pictures of love-struck couples…[or] your happily committed friends.”
In addition to getting you down, it’s not even a fair comparison: “the majority of those couples,” she explains, “are solely sharing the highs of their relationships, while masking the lows.”
“Everyone has moments where they feel lonely,” says Julie Fanning, LCSW at Holding Hope Services. Instead of fighting these feelings, she explains, it can be helpful “to allow yourself to actually feel the feeling.”
In addition to exploring a natural part of human life, she says, doing so will help those feelings to eventually pass, rather than lingering unsaid.
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