Nobody—whether single, in a long-term committed relationship or anything in between—is completely immune from that often-painful feeling of loneliness. That is, however, until you can see it for what it is: an attitude that’s completely within your power to change.
Merely being alone does not cause loneliness, as its roots are in the attitude or belief that somehow the “world is having a party” and you were not invited. Loneliness is the feeling of being on the outside looking in. There’s nothing unhealthy about missing a particular person, but longing becomes most painful when you believe that being happy or content depends on having him or her around. And this, of course is not always possible. The solution is to change those painful feelings of loneliness and isolation to the very nourishing feeling of solitude. This shift can be life changing!
In other words, solitude and loneliness are two very different ways you can choose to look upon being alone. Solitude defines your aloneness as a positive and empowering experience, while loneliness does the exact opposite. It’s simply a matter of adjusting your attitude about being alone, then taking action to put make your solitude an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
The ability not only to accept, but to profoundly enjoy your solitude can be one of life’s greatest gifts. So here are some strategies you can adopt to help you do just that:
- Instead of defining quality time only as time spent with other people, you can make the commitment to both cherish your own company, and become fiercely protective of it. Spend time—even when you don’t have to—with interests and activities that you can enjoy alone. Make a strong, conscious effort to stop considering solitary activity as merely a consolation prize.
- Indeed, you have a right to your own solitude. Most people would not even think of telling someone who invited them out, “I’d rather spend some time alone today.” Usually an “acceptable excuse” has you doing something with another person. Think about that. For many, the only acceptable excuse that involves being alone is to be sick! Some time ago I was at a conference in New York City where I gave several presentations and had a grueling day that included a number of very long meetings and constant stimulation. My colleagues planned dinner together for our two-hour break, and assumed that I was coming along. Instead, I told them that I had other plans and I would see them at our meeting later that evening. In fact, my plan was to take a magazine, go to a nice restaurant, relax, and have a quiet dinner by myself. After all, I had been talking all day, and there was still more to do after dinner. Well, guess what? With over tens of thousands of restaurants in New York City, this group of people walked right into the one where I was sitting, peacefully reading my magazine! “What’s wrong?” they asked. “We thought you had plans.” ‘Yes, I do. My plans are to have a nice quiet dinner alone.” Later on, a few even confided to me that they, too, would have rather had a quiet dinner that night, but felt obligated, and were afraid of seeming aloof or offending their colleagues. So remember never to feel defensive about your choice to be alone.
- Many wonderful and fun things can he done in solitude. Some of what we pursue while alone can touch other people’s lives. Other things are merely private pursuits—in some cases, even your strongest passions—that can be infinitely rewarding when we allow ourselves to enjoy them. Just taking the opportunity to think and create can make your own company exhilarating. Feel free to listen to music (there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a concert or a night at the opera by yourself), visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, sporting events, or engage in a visual experience of something that you enjoy, such as photography or working on photo albums. If you are someone who likes to read, every moment you are alone can be a chance to indulge in that pursuit. Some people enjoy gardening, playing with a pet, organizing a living arrangement, exercising, getting out into nature or traveling. Meditating or just thinking, fantasizing, participating in any creative or spiritual activity, writing, drawing, or taking a fun course in something that you would like to learn are just a few of the infinite number of things that you might indulge in on your own.
What are you denying yourself when you let loneliness win? With these strategies, you can quickly learn to treasure your solitude. And once you do, nobody can ever take it away.