“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the world.” ~Marcus Aurelius
At the end of August I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. This was my second major move in a year. In both cases, I was separated from almost my entire prior social network. After college, making friends seems like a totally different ball game. Here in Madison, I wake up before five in the morning to go to work and don’t get back until six or seven on most days of the week. This leaves me feeling exhausted, but it hasn’t stopped me from going out and socializing fairly often.
In many cases, too often.
I’m somewhat of an introvert, and I very much need my alone time. But the “need” to be social and make new friends as quickly as possible seems to be winning out most of the time. That compulsion to establish and strengthen new friendships makes sense; positive relationships are one of the most surefire ways to increase our happiness. But when it comes at the expense of a good diet, sleep, and (most of all) a chance to recharge our circuits after a long day, it can become a problem.
Acknowledge Your Need To Recharge
Unless you are the most extroverted of extroverts, you need at least some alone time.
But in this age of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), it can be incredibly challenging to “sacrifice” your social time. And for what? To feel lonely?
Well, I’ve got news for you: There is a difference between being lonely and being alone.
In fact, many individuals who don’t take the necessary time to recharge end up feeling isolated, despite always being with others. There are many times where I’ve been “out of it” while hanging out with friends because I haven’t taken time to recharge. So what are we to do?
The key is to recognize our need for constant external validation and squash it like a bug. That’s easier said than done, of course. But by getting ourselves on the right path, we can make it drastically easier to build that downtime into our schedules.
Think of it this way: There won’t always be people around for you to hang out with, so you’ll need to learn to be happy by yourself anyways.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not preaching that we should all withdraw ourselves from the rest of the world. What I am saying is that we should minimize our need for external validation so that we can find time to recuperate from the many stressors we experience on a daily basis.
This is time where you make an active effort to get to know yourself and your values. You are alone because you choose to be alone at that moment, and you know that you can enjoy yourself even without company.
How To Be Happy Alone
There are a number of things you can do to optimize your time alone.
1. Let go of your FOMO.
Fear of missing out is an incredibly common problem these days. People only post their greatest moments on Facebook, so you constantly feel like there are amazing things happening that you are not a part of. Learn to reframe these thoughts, and realize that you can easily have just as much fun as your friends who are going out. Instead of thinking, “I can’t believe I’m missing X”, think, “Now would be a perfect time for a rejuvenating workout.”
2. Meditate on your values.
When you are alone, spend some time considering whether you are happy and if you are acting congruently with your values. Not only will this increase your overall happiness, but it will also help you use your time better. Spending so much of your free time with others may be taking too much time away from other things you consider priorities. It’s important to me that I spend time writing, but since my most recent move I haven’t been congruent. Spending so much time going out distracted me from my goals. Your alone time can help you recognize if the same is true for you—and help you change it.
3. See your alone time as an opportunity to take good care of yourself.
This means exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to manage your stress. The most common excuse for not taking care of ourselves is that we don’t have enough time. Combine this with your alone time and you will! This will also have a positive effect on the time you spend with your friends. The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be in your relationships with others.
4. Minimize your exposure to negativity.
Reading the news in my alone time, while interesting, is a very easy way to worsen my mood. Limit the amount of time you spend absorbing these negative messages and the time will be a more positive experience.
Some Ideas to Enjoy Your Alone Time
1. Try new hobbies.
Hobbies allow you to develop your skills and to experience the much sought after “flow” state. I recommend writing, but there are a million other things you can try, like cooking. We all have such an intimate relationship with food. Cooking can be an immensely pleasurable experience, and it also allows you to better control what you are putting in your body. Win-win!
2. Spend time outdoors or appreciating beauty.
Take a walk by yourself, watch some clouds drift past, or enjoy someone’s street art. When you are with others, you may feel a need to rush by, but alone you are unencumbered. There is a lot of beauty out there to appreciate, so don’t miss out.
3. Do some people watching.
Observing other people’s behavior can be wildly entertaining, but it can also be a cathartic experience. People watching can help give you a better understanding of yourself and of how humans act.
Get More from Your Social Time
Learning to be happy alone is not about becoming a hermit; in fact, properly applied, it will help you appreciate the time you spend socializing even more. How? Two ways. First is simple economics; make something more scarce and its value goes up. In other words, you will enjoy being with your friends more if you don’t hang out with them all the time.But more importantly, when you are alone, you can better get to know yourself and your values. This self-awareness translates into more authentic connections with others.
When you are with other people, cherish that time. Really try to make the most of it and connect with whoever you are with.
But know that at the same time, you would be perfectly content to just sit on your couch and have a cup of tea while watching old X-Files episodes. Allowing yourself to recharge in this way will help you and your relationships to grow.
Michael Davidson has written for over a year about finding happiness and health. The keys to his heart are dark chocolate and an encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons quotes.