Are you wondering how to be happy single or alone?
I’ve been through a couple iterations of aloneness during different periods of my life.
I refer to them as alone in a room full of people and alone in a room with myself; which I’ll talk about in this post.
As to how to be happy alone, there isn’t a simple answer. Although we can be happy without intimacy with others, there seems to be a limit to that experience until we share it with others.
I’ll share and talk about the last scene in the movie Into the Wild. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s pretty hard to watch—so you’ve been warned—it always brings tears to my eyes.
My wife Emily and I sat down and came up with 12 simple actions (most were her suggestions) that you can do—alone—to be happy; which I’ll list at the end of this post.
My Time Alone
There were certainly times in my life where I have been alone, and would have considered myself happy. My aloneness consisted of two very different versions. The first has consumed the majority of my life, up until the age of 35.
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Alone in a Room Full of People
As we live our lives consumed with how others perceive us, we display certain external versions of who we are; or more precisely, how we want others to perceive us. From my experience, this creates a sort of split self. I have this version I’m showing the world, while at the same time, I have an inner perspective of myself that’s often quite different. Although we’re probably not aware of this “split” self at the time. At least I wasn’t.
We seem relatively happy. Maybe we have a large group of friends that we hang out with from time-to-time or we may even be in an intimate relationship. We think we’re happy; at least it would appear that way from the outside.
Yet inside we may still have this little nudge or pressure in our soul that’s suggesting there must be something more. Maybe we feel as if we’re settling. Asking ourselves, “is this as good as it gets?”
I lived that way for the majority of my life. I was always this outgoing, positive, and seemingly happy person. Yet I still felt something missing in life. That all of these other happy people around me must know something I didn’t. It’s funny though, because at the same time my ego was telling me—and fighting to portray externally—that I was the one who held the secret. After all, most friends came to me for advice and were certainly blown away by my witty sense of humor and personal drive.
So there I was; happy alone. Yet even in a room full of people, surrounded by friends, or even in an “intimate” relationship, there was still a part of me that felt lonely. That I was missing something while resigning to “that’s life” and it’s always going to be this way.
As a result of living this split self; I never really got honest with anyone, especially myself. When things got uncomfortable, I’d bolt or just pass over it. I had no emotional connectedness to my authentic self or what I truly needed to be happy. So I just acted as if most of the time and avoided any real emotional connections with myself and others. This was later described to me by a psychiatrist as conflict avoidance. Which is a fancy way of saying I didn’t like feeling uncomfortable.
Even though I was in relationships and had friends, there were long periods where I became quite introverted. Staying at home all the time by myself and becoming consumed with learning. I got into computers and taught myself about networks, programming, and web development. Although I was alone, I didn’t know how to just be. I was unable to just sit in a quiet room alone with my thoughts because there was always that deep part of me that felt as if something was missing. So I just kept my mind busy on external things.
So I would say that I was happy; at least compared to a lot of people I knew at the time. But in perspective, it was nothing compared to the soul filling happiness and contentment I’ve discovered since.
Alone in a Room with Myself
After hitting that point of total isolation and desperation, I sought to find inner-peace and happiness. That’s when I truly started getting honest with myself. I simply didn’t care anymore what others thought of me. I got help from anyone or anything I could; therapist’s, counselors, clergy, 12-step programs, spiritual advisers, books, etc. I just wanted something different out of life and wasn’t going to give up until I found the missing piece to the puzzle.
What I found was my perfect and authentic self. Through a process which I go into great detail in my upcoming book, “Happiness for the Practical Mind: 7 Steps to Discovering and Loving Your Authentic Self,” I found what I was missing; a deep emotional connectedness with self. Resulting in—among many things—a deep acceptance of my authentic self and the ability to love and be loved.
The process—as it’s ongoing and continually evolving—allows me to live as one. Just be who I am and know that it’s enough. What I feel on the inside, peace, joy, love, acceptance, and happiness, is what radiates outwards and shows on the outside. I truly know and accept who I am, which means needing less external from the world to make me happy, therefore I am happy.
“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Today, I’m able to sit alone, meditate, and feel the presence of love, spirit, God, and all the wondrous things life has to offer. I can sit alone in a room with myself and feel happiness, joy, and peace. Once I realized I have everything within me to be completely happy, I no longer need to take or expect anything from anyone. Living is not about me anymore, it’s about what I have to offer the world. This is when real meaningful and life changing relationships manifest in our lives. This has brought a completely different level of happiness.
Since I can be happy alone with my true self, I can truly connect with others and develop deep, intimate relationships. Being happy alone is good, but is happiness real if not shared with others?
“Being happy alone is good, but is happiness real if not shared with others?” – Click to Tweet
Is Happiness Only Real if Shared?
If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie Into the Wild, you should. But I must warn you, it’s sort of… well, really sad at the end. If you’re not familiar with this true story, here’s a brief synopsis:
Christopher McCandless is a promising, smart, and seemingly fearless young adult. After graduating with honors from Emory, he gives away his savings—anonymously—to a charity, hops in his car and drives off without letting anyone know where he’s going. For certain reasons he’s lost trust in his family and sets out to experience the country and ends up hitching across the Northwest before settling on a plan to live completely alone in the Alaskan wilderness. In his journeys, he comes across many people who are inspired by him, but he avoids any true intimacy.
He finally makes it to the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 at the age of twenty-four and lives for 16 weeks off the land void of any human contact using a deserted bus as shelter. However, he eventually ate some spoiled or poison berries which lead to his death; alone in a bus in the woods.
What do you think, is happiness only real if it’s shared?
That ending scene in the movie just disturbs my soul for some reason; in a way which I very seldom feel. It touches a deep rooted fear, of being completely alone or dying. A feeling that’s not pleasant, but cannot keep us from living today. There’s been a few times in my life when I’ve felt that primal fear; it’s my time. And it’s true, you think about those most important to you in your life.
Like when I think about a day in St. Croix when I nearly drowned snorkeling.
My wife and I had just become certified SCUBA divers so I was feeling a bit over confident. There was a nice reef about a hundred yards out from our resort and a fellow diver had mentioned an entry point just past our beach near some rocky outcroppings. So off I went while Emily walked the beach and picked up seashells.
Without a snorkeling vest I carefully timed the waves and entered the choppy water and kicked out quickly to where the depth was probably 15-20 feet. I figured once I got out from all the rocks the water would be calmer. What I discovered was quite the contrary. Huge swelling waves pounded me while I could see enormous sharp rocks popping above the surface all around me as each wave passed. Tiring quickly, I struggled to swim and switch between breathing with and without my snorkel. The water was so choppy that whenever I tried to just swim face down using my snorkel, it would take in water causing more panic. I searched for any large rocks I could stand on to rest while praying I didn’t suck in more water or get slammed into the sharp rocks on all sides. The swells and my initial entry had carried me far enough that returning the way I came in was not an option. So I would have to make it a few hundred feet to the beach passing more large rocks. It was a daunting task with 3-4 foot swells, sharp rocks, and—from the few glimpses I actually got under the water—spiny sea urchins the size of basketballs everywhere!
As fatigue quickly set in, I managed to find a few good footings on large rocks to catch my breath briefly until a large wave would lift me up causing me to lose my footing. I remember briefly seeing Emily down on the beach, calmly looking for shells. It was humbling to know that just a few hundred feet away she was so peaceful while I was fighting for my life. I was thinking, “God, please… I’m going to die right here in this ocean while she’s just a few hundred feet away.”
Once I made it to shallow enough water, I didn’t care about all the sea urchins any more and just scampered over the sharp rocks and crawled to the sand. Emily, not catching the terror still on my face, looked at me and said, “How was it?” I simply said, “Not good and probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.”
I will say one thing, I feel a lot safer with a tank of air strapped to my back!
12 Simple Actions to Make Yourself Happy
1. Go shopping (Yes, this was my wife’s idea) – She’s a bargain shopper and will watch a pair of jeans for months until they go on sale. She said that shopping alone makes her happy. She can take her time and look for great deals.
2. Paint a Room – It’s amazing what a coat of paint in an uplifting color can do to a room.
3. Get rid of old socks – I wasn’t sure about this one… but hey, I do feel better when I clean out my sock draw.
4. Go for a Walk – Enjoy nature or find a park where there are other people and feel good about getting out and being part of a community.
5. Make a new friend – Be open to friendship and find ways of connecting with others.
6. Read a Book – It’s great being sucked into a good book, the kind you can’t wait to get back to.
7. Go to a Movie – Go to a movie and get a huge bucket of popcorn and your favorite soft drink. I used to think going to a movie by myself was pathetic, but then I realized… who cares, I’m in a movie!
8. People watch – Try not to do this in a creep way. I love going to a coffee shop or mall and just walking around and watching how people interact. We humans are interesting.
9. Volunteer – Find a local shelter or volunteer organization to donate your time.
10. Make a list of things you need to do around the house – I love lists. You can make a simple list of jobs around the house you’d like to get done. Just checking a few off can make you feel good about yourself.
11. Make a gratitude list – This is one I use all the time, never fails. Gratitude makes us happy!
12. Start a Puzzle – Puzzles can be fun and provide a good sense of accomplishment when finished.
These are just a few things we thought of this morning over coffee.
What do you do to make yourself feel happy?
Is happiness only real if it’s shared?