Whether you lead a solitary life or are simply feeling lonely, figuring out how to be happy alone goes a long way toward bolstering mental health. Even though everyone gets lonely sometimes, learning how to appreciate some me-time can take your days from okay to great. But, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.
Meet the Experts: Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., psychologist and CEO of Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D Patrick Porter, Ph.D., neuroscience expert and founder of BrainTap; Jeff Temple, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and founding director of the Center for Violence Prevention at University of Texas Medical Branch; Brad Thomas, Ph.D., NYC-based therapist and licensed clinical psychologist; Jeff Yoo, L.M.F.T. at Moment of Clarity Mental Health Center.
“Being happy in life and with self begins with our choices as adults and how we perceive our contributions to the world,” says Jeff Yoo, L.M.F.T. at Moment of Clarity Mental Health Center. Ahead, mental health experts explain tips for being happy alone, how to ask for help when you need it, and what it is to be alone versus feeling lonely.
Alone vs. lonely
Being alone is a physical state where you are not in the company of others, whereas feeling lonely is an emotional state of feeling isolated, regardless of whether you’re physically alone or with others, says Patrick Porter, Ph.D., neuroscience expert and founder of BrainTap. “One can be alone without feeling lonely, and conversely, one can feel lonely in a crowd,” he says. Understanding this difference is crucial, as it impacts how you approach your own mental and emotional well-being.
Aloneness can be a neutral state, says Brad Thomas, Ph.D., NYC-based therapist and licensed clinical psychologist. “People can be happy being by themselves, and there are other times when they desire to be emotionally connected to others,” he says. Still, we want to keep our eye on these feelings to determine to what extent we are feeling loneliness and how distressing it can be, he adds.
Aloneness can be an enriching experience—giving us the chance to learn more about ourselves and the world around us, says Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., psychologist and CEO of Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D. “Loneliness can arise when we feel that we have no one to share our experiences with or no one who understands us,” she says.
How to be happy alone short-term
In our society, there is a stigma around being alone or feeling lonely that we can flip on its head, says Thomas. “We can take some of the power away from that stigmatization and look at it healthier,” he says. There are many advantages to being alone, like having the time to focus on yourself. “That is taking the power in your hands and understanding what you desire, independent of other people’s reactions,” Thomas explains.
When it comes to things you can start doing right now to be happy alone, experts suggest:
Question the narrative
First of all, ask yourself if you are really “unhappy alone” or have you been taught to think you should be unhappy if you are alone, says Klisanin. “Our narratives define us. If your ‘story’ isn’t working, you have permission to change it,” she says.
Take a moment for mindfulness
Spend five to 10 minutes each day meditating to center yourself. Focus on your breathing and the present moment, suggests Porter. Accepting solitude as an opportunity rather than a hindrance can shift one’s perspective, adds Klisanin.
Even a 20-minute walk outside can boost endorphin levels, elevating your mood and well-being, says Porter. “Avoid sitting for prolonged periods; our research shows that just two hours of sitting can reduce oxygen in the brain by 10%. Make it a point to get up and move around,” he adds.
Take a tech break
Take a break from being on your computer and technology when you can, says Thomas. “Putting away your devices allows you to check in with yourself to see what you desire.”
Engage in creative activities
These can be therapeutic and stimulate your brain, says Porter. Whether it’s painting, journaling, gardening, or learning to play a musical instrument, a new hobby can provide a sense of fulfillment and self-expression, says Klisanin.
Watching short motivational videos or reading inspirational quotes can uplift your spirits, says Porter—so time to watch some Ted Talks!
Practice self-care and grounding
Pamper yourself, whether it’s taking a warm bath or enjoying your favorite healthy snack, says Porter. “Additionally, spend some time outside grounding yourself to release excess energy. Walk on grass barefoot or with leather shoes to achieve a zero point energy state; our research indicates that the average person has up to three volts of disruptive energy flowing through their body,” he adds.
How to be happy alone long-term
The more you practice and get into the habit of being alone, the more you’ll understand your path of self-understanding and discovery, says Thomas. With time, “you’ll be able to tolerate so much more ambiguity because you know yourself well,” he says. Experts explain the best tips for figuring out how to be happy alone long-term.
Build a routine
A stable routine helps your brain recognize patterns, making you feel more in control and happier, says Porter. “Incorporate a consistent sleep schedule into this routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps regulate your body’s clock and improves your overall well-being,” he says.
Whether they are short- or long-term, goals give you a sense of purpose, says Porter. “Challenge yourself to tackle new things; this keeps your mind sharp and invokes the beginner’s mindset, which is fantastic for discovering happiness,” he says.
Keep your mind sharp
Learning something new is not just rewarding; it enhances brain function, says Porter. “Continuously challenging yourself with new skills not only boosts your self-esteem but also keeps your cognitive abilities in top form,” he says.
Plan for self-reflection
Dedicate time each week for journaling or contemplation, focusing on your goals, fears, and achievements, says Porter. “As part of this, map out a plan that addresses your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health,” he adds. This is a good opportunity to be proactive in your health and take an honest look at how you can treat yourself and your body better.
Tend to relationships
Establish and maintain a supportive circle of contacts, prioritizing quality over quantity, says Porter. Join groups with positive goals and outcomes in mind.
Be of service
Volunteering to help at your favorite organization is a great way to feel less alone and create relationships with others, says Klisanin. “Volunteering to support outdoor or environmental projects is a great way to spend time with others while continuing to nurture one’s relationship with the natural world,” she continues. Being of service to others not only enriches your life but also increases brain function and fills your brain with feel-good neurotransmitters, adds Porter.
Focus on slow movement
The fast pace of modern life keeps us under constant stress, says Klisanin. “Embrace slow-paced activities like slow cooking or crafting, aligning with natural rhythms. Unplug from devices, give your body a break from the constant stream of information,” she suggests.
Treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and patience, advises Klisanin. “It is okay to have moments of loneliness and sorrow. Remind yourself that just as the clouds obscure the sun and then move on, so too will your feelings,” she says.
Take yourself on a date
Go to a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. See a movie. Think of it as a vacation from the world and your responsibilities, says Jeff Temple, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and founding director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch. When you make time for yourself in your routine, you will soon get into the habit of intentionally choosing to have time alone and start to look forward to your me-time.
When to ask for help
It’s important to assess how you’re feeling and know when to seek help. When feelings of loneliness start to impact your daily functioning like your work, relationships, and leisure time, then it’s a sign that it’s time to seek help, says Temple.
Additionally, if you find yourself consistently unhappy, struggling to find joy in activities you used to love, or feeling a sense of hopelessness, it’s time to speak with a mental health professional, says Porter. Remember that there are many different types of therapy, so don’t give up if the first one you visit isn’t a perfect fit, says Klisanin. “Start by talking to friends or family who you feel comfortable with,” Porter suggests.
If you or someone you know is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741 to message a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free.
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