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A Social Person’s Guide to Being Happy Alone ~ Part One: Lonely or Alone?

The following post is the first in a series inspired in part by the work “How to Be Alone” by poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman as seen in the video below.

It hits home in a way that has brought millions of views on YouTube, and in a Feel Good Lifestyle way, you’ll learn how to get comfortable with being alone…

~~~

Imagine with me for just a few minutes…we’re going to do a quick exercise in social purging:

Delete your Facebook account. Take away Twitter. Get off of Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, CouchSurfing, Foursquare, Flickr, and Chatroulette.

Yes, especially Chatroulette.

Sound like a lesser circle of hell? Let’s go a step further.

Destroy your smart phone, your laptop, your desktop, your iPod.

We’re not finished. Imagine you live in a new city. You have food, clothes, and shelter, but you have no occupation, no friends, no contacts. You don’t speak the local language.

You are existing separated from a society which continues to exist, to breathe, to move around you.

You are alone.

How do you feel?

~~~

Disconnected

Maybe the first emotion you experience is a sense of disconnectedness. You’re freaking out, undergoing some serious culture shock and withdrawal…

Your normal methods of communication have been thrown out the window. There is no more reaching for your cell phone to text a friend with a question, no way to reach your parents who live in another country when you’re dealing with a problem. Your social support system does not exist.

Feeling like you’d go a bit more than crazy?  I know I would, at first…

Purposeless

So what do you do? When everyone you know and love is unreachable, what do you have left?

Remember, your daily life just took on a completely new form. You’re not running around trying to meet up with friends, professors, clients. You don’t have homework assignments or job responsibilities to busy yourself with. (Remember, no more school, and no more work.) Your schedule for the day just got really, really empty.

Again, what do you do?

Maybe you feel a lack of purpose – an unsettling discontent that you have nothing to do and no one to do it with. What do you have left?

You. Just you. (Here’s where it gets intriguing…)

Alone vs. Lonely

Does the concept of being by yourself for a whole day make you seriously uncomfortable? As in, cringe-worthy, nails-on-a-chalkboard uncomfortable? Let’s take a step back and look at things from another perspective…

When you’re by yourself, do you feel alone or lonely?

Alone:

Wordle: Alone

Lonely:

Wordle: Lonely

Can you spot the difference?  One is freeing, and can enable you to do more of what you want to do in a more focused, efficient way. One is an emotional trap, a feeling that bogs you down, and over an extended period of time, can have serious emotional and physical effects.

Alone = free from others
Lonely = trapped with yourself

It’s often a simple matter of perspective. Take, for example, the life of the emerging group of entrepreneurs who make a living through their online businesses. They might spend entire days without a single meaningful, personal interaction, working via Wi-Fi in cafes around the world. They have a choice: Feel disconnected and lonely as the rest of the world runs on a 9 to 5 clock or embrace being alone and use it to their advantage.

The same goes if you decide to live by yourself in a foreign country. I made the continental switch from the States to Europe almost two years ago and haven’t looked back. The challenge is there – your daily social support system isn’t – so you can choose to be lonely or simply alone.

What would you choose?

I may be going out on a limb here, but let’s say you’d rather not feel lonely if you suddenly had to lead a more solitary life.

Here’s the thing: you’re going to have to give yourself a chance to be your own awesome company. You – yeah, you – that person in the mirror – is going to stick around for a while, so you might as well start hanging out. (I mean, you don’t think you’re that intimidating, right?)

I need you to do something really quickly for me – it’ll just take a minute. Run to the closest mirror and stand in front of it for a full minute, without interruptions. Yep, seriously, let’s do this: look into the eyes of the face that you see (come on, just go with this for a sec…)

Ready? Go!

(Intermission music…la di da da dum da da dum dum di dum…)

Finished? Great.

Was it easy? Did you feel comfortable? Did you see anything you weren’t expecting to see? What thoughts went through your head while you were looking into your own eyes?

If it was easy and your passing thoughts were mostly positive, that’s fantastic! You’re probably ready to have a picnic with yourself in a crowded park and not feel silly :)

If it was difficult or uncomfortable and if the thoughts flitting across your mind weren’t exactly the most pleasant, don’t worry; now you know that being okay with being alone with yourself might be a bit more of a challenge…

Here’s where “How to be Alone” comes into play. Have a look at this brilliant video before we continue:

Now, for your challenge:

If you were uncomfortable looking at yourself in the mirror, I especially want you to try one of the following

-Take yourself out to coffee/tea and leave your electronic distractions (and reading materials!) at home. Sit, sip, and observe yourself and others in the café. See what happens.

-Have lunch in a crowded place, where most of the customers are with others. Again, no distractions allowed; just sit and enjoy your meal, and see what happens.

-Go all out: reserve a fancy dinner for one, be your elegant self, and enjoy your own candlelit company!

(FYI: I’ll be doing the third challenge within the next two weeks by myself…it’ll be a mini trip outside of my comfort zone, but that’s the point!)

These times with yourself should help you along the path to being more comfortable and content alone, happier with your own, fantastic self, and ultimately, to becoming a more independent person. The next post will continue this guide, so check back in a couple of weeks for a follow-up to my “dinner for one”.

In the meantime, I’d be thrilled to hear from you about how your date with yourself goes, so please do leave a comment or send me an email at ginger@feelgoodlifestyle.com – good luck!

Ginger

Please share this post so that more people can learn to be happy alone

About the Author

GingerGinger is a Peak Potentials Coach and the Feel Good Team’s resident nomad. Through her coaching, she helps you navigate major transitions, whether to new locations, new jobs or to new phases in life. Ginger also coordinates with writers for The Feel Good Lifestyle so that you have fresh, inspiring content.

Twitter: @ginger_kern

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Posted on : 10, Jul 2012

25 Comments

  • Amazing video! Totally made my day, thank you!

    • You’re welcome, glad to hear it! I had the same reaction when I first saw it; it was too good not to share!

  • Very interesting and powerful! Loved it :)
    We all need it from time to time to gather our thoughts, find our inner peace and observe the world – enjoying the details.

    • Definitely – it’s great that you mention that people actually *need* to be alone – to recharge, mentally & physically. Thanks again for the feedback, Ivor. Now I’m curious, which of the challenges will you be doing within the next two weeks?

      • Probably the first, having a drink and being without my mobile phone which I use too often. Also I’ll include a walk/run through the forest without people around – to try both options (with/without people). Looking forward to it, I like that kind of “alone time”, just need to ignore more technology that’s everywhere and go back to the feelings that streets, nature, life gives us. Respecting “the moment”.

  • Very interesting, in a serendipitous way, to come across this blog. On June 15 I posted on the Book of Face:

    The word “alone” can so easily be made into “lonely” by dropping the “a” and adding an “ly.” I’d rather add an “l” and a space and make it “all one.” There can be wholeness in being alone.
    Accepting
    Living
    Owning
    Now
    Enough

    • I love the “owning now” part, Celeste, and how, if you accept yourself, then you become enough. Great commentary, I’d love to see more of it!

  • I LOVE THIS POST! I love going to the beach alone, taking in wave after wave of people and all the sounds.

    • Hey Mario, thanks for your enthusiasm!! I’m also a huge fan of being alone near open water, having lived 20 years not 10 minutes from the beautiful Lake Michigan :D Which challenge have you decided to do, by the way?

      • That sounds amazing! I am actually taking the same challenge you are. Cheers to a lively dinner :) Cannot wait to hear about how yours went!

  • Ive travelled LOTS ( lived in 5 cities in the past 4 years ), and I gota say, time alone is something that you should look forward to. It gives you a chance to meditate, do what you’d like, and figure out your life. No distractions. Just you.

    • For sure! It might take a bit of time to realize it, but it’s SO great when you do!

  • Oh Jesus. The video is beautiful. But it seems like it’s a bit for beginners or – let’s put it this way – totally not reflected bored people. Hm … are there really people who don’t know how to enjoy a piece of cake on their own???? Perhaps there are…

    I think the topic goes much deeper. To me the question is not, how to fill a day on your own. I NEED being on my own. The real question is, how to find people who think the way you do in a confused hectic and f* up world. I’m not talking about a social system or ‘normal’ friends. I’m talking about soulmates. About deepness.

    • Hey Lena, I think the video is a great tool to incite a bit of reflection in people who may not have needed to think about the topic before… It’s absolutely a deep topic, and the point isn’t to fill a day on your own, but rather to be comfortable enough with yourself / self-confident as a person to be capable of doing so. As far as the world being hectic and f’d up, I hope that you can find some depth in this website, and maybe — who knows — you’ll be able to use some of the concepts to attain that ‘deepness’ in your day-to-day life :)
      P.S. I need to be on my own too…not often, but it’s a definite way to maintain a balance between my natural ‘social self’ and the introverted, introspective part of my personality. Thanks for your comment – hope to hear more from you in the future…

  • Quite an intriguing post! loved the comparison between being lonely and alone. Being alone and concentrating on yourself is one of the best ways to distress. I believe there is some degree of toxicity in how any of our social circle expands. It does have its toll on us, both mentally and physical. An instant cut off and time spend alone is a golden. In fact no matter how easy this concept looks cutting out to be alone is difficult. Consistent practice and strong will power is required. Once again great post…made me think a while!

    • Finding the balance between the rejuvenating aloneness and healthy time with social circles is key, especially if it’s a challenge due to timing/job stuff/society/whatever. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post!

  • Hello Ginger!,

    Thanks for this article, very inspiring! I plan to share it with my closest friend, who struggles with aloneness.

    Years ago, my boyfriend at the time was too busy to go out to lunch with me (as you can imagine, we are no longer together), and so I simply went by myself. My waiter, and several other wait staff, seemed to feel sorry for me that I was there alone. They went out of their way to make conversation, and ask me about myself. I didn’t feel sorry for me, though. In fact, it was one of the nicer meals I’ve had over the years. It was entirely for me and I really enjoyed it.

    Finding comfort in, or at least being ok with, being alone, is something I’ve been blessed with since a young age. But I’ve become more aware of others discomfort with aloneness and have wondered how to help them. Now I know I can start by sharing your article. So thanks :)

    Amy

    • Hey Amy, thanks for sharing! I had a similar experience when I was doing the challenge this past Wednesday, and I’ll be posting an article about it soon. It’s awesome to hear that you’re at the stage where you can really enjoy aloneness without feeling sorry for yourself, and even greater to hear that you’re up for helping others discover how to do the same! Good luck :) -Ginger

  • I like the article/poem or whatever i find it truly inspirational. But wouldn’t you think that a lot of these things can Trigger your brain spiraling into a pretty dark depression? Also if you search under “Lone Wolf” And “Loner” in Wikipedia will answer most of your questions. I know because i have been on this path, And i do feel awesome being alone, And extremely happy not as happy as i could be, but pretty happy. I fit into the: “perceived or actual superiority in terms of ethics or intellect, and so relate only to individuals they consider worthy of their time and attention” section.

    • Hey Anthony, great thoughts. I have grappled with the negatives of being alone – in both short, intense situations as well as long, drawn-out ones, and I don’t think I’m a person who can spiral into a dark depression. Perhaps it’s not the activities which one does, or tries, but rather the nature of the individual’s brain chemistry itself? In any case, I’m guilty as well of the “cut people out of my life whom I don’t consider worthy of my time” syndrome. It can be refreshing and healthy when done without egotism involved. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the most important life experiences to be okay/at peace with yourself. Experimenting with ways to find that contentment is, then, a very worthy way to spend time. -Ginger

  • Hi ,
    Loved the article..
    And I found it at the right time when I seriously needed help…!
    We sometimes are so addicted to having someone around that we dont appreciate our own selves enough..I used to find it so difficult to be alone, all by myself, especially during the time between relationships…
    But I am trying to fall in love with myself.. Appreciating myself. And I know only then will I overcome the desperate need to be with someone rather than wait for that person..
    Well, thanks a lot. And my mission starts from today!!!
    Thanks a lot Ginger :)

    • Hey Shruti, I totally support your mission! I’m working on the self-love thing too…it’s a lot easier to love other people, somehow. I’ve found it helps to catch self-deprecating inner comments as they start rolling and just smash them as invalid. It takes practice, but it’s definitely worth it :) Good luck! -Ginger

  • [...] couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post on the difference between loneliness and aloneness. It ended with a challenge to go on one of three [...]

  • [...] (A Social Person’s Guide to Being Happy Alone goes more in-depth on this topic, in parts one and two). [...]

  • Hello all,
    thanks Ginger for your article, so full of thruths.

So, what do you think?