March 12, 2024

Redefining Solitude as our Happy Place.


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As a 36-year-old single woman living alone, I assure you I am highly qualified to write this piece ahead of the International Day of Happiness.

A global event organised by the United Nations annually on 20 March, the International Day of Happiness reminds us that being happy is a human right and is worth celebrating.

What is happiness?

A quick Google search will reveal several definitions of the word “happiness.” Sonya Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, defines happiness as “joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Research and definitions aside, most of us understand what happiness is because we know what it feels like to be unhappy. As they say, there’s nothing like lived experience!

Calling out the elephant in the room.

As I noted earlier, I’m 36, I live alone, and am happily single. When I look around, generally speaking, I am an anomaly at this phase of my life. Most of my friends are married or partnered, and some have families or are at least starting the journey.

When I reflect on the purpose of the International Day of Happiness, I can’t help but feel we are typically taught and conditioned to search for happiness in all the wrong places (everywhere besides within ourselves).

I’ve been at events where people confess they feel “sorry” for me after engaging in the standard small talk dance consisting of the usual questions:

>> How’s work?

>> How’s the business?

>> Are you seeing anyone?

(That is a true story by the way.)

The stigma is real. There is no need to pity me because I’m living Sonya Lyubomirsky’s definition of happiness. The “how” simply looks a little different. I’m not saying my version of life and happiness is better or ideal for everyone; it’s how my life has played out.

I’m already in the longest relationship I’ll ever have.

You are too. As the popular saying goes, the longest relationship you’ll ever have with anyone is with yourself. And yet people tend to pour most of their time and energy into romantic relationships, friendships, work and familial relationships. Often, their own happiness and needs play second fiddle.

Women, the traditional “nurturers” who keep the family together, are typically taught to place everyone’s needs above their own. Mothers often prioritise their kids and partners. Mums have needs too and in time, if those needs are not considered and appeased, resentment builds. What does that achieve in the long-term?

The difference between solitude and loneliness. 

It’s important to note that feeling lonely and being alone are two different things. Research shows that social isolation and loneliness have a serious impact on physical and mental health, quality of life, and longevity. Many of us learned this the hard way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loneliness is more than feeling disconnected; it’s also feeling unseen and unheard. Someone can be in a relationship and still feel lonely. They could also be in a crowded room and still feel lonely. Loneliness is an ache, a constant yearning and need for more.

Solitude is all about having space to exist without any expectations that typically come with family, friends, and work. Studies suggest that spending time alone can decrease anxiety and depressive thoughts; this may especially be the case for introverts like myself.

Life happens.

The road to solitude looks different for everyone. Whether you are in a similar position to me or have encountered another life experience like losing a spouse, here are three ways to help you redefine solitude as being your home and happy place.

Listen to your inner voice

If embracing solitude feels good to you, who cares what anyone else thinks? Remember, a lot of what we’ve been taught has been driven by commercialism (aka our feelings and emotions being seen as cash cows for certain industries). We live in a culture that rewards extroverts and the loudest person in the room. How you view your time alone and speak to yourself about that time makes the world of difference.

Challenge yourself

Time for reflection goes hand in hand with solitude. Activities like journaling, the gym, and walking are all part of my daily routine. Once a week, I go to the spa (the apartment building spa; I don’t have my own personal spa yet, sadly) and am hit with an almost constant stream of energising thoughts.

Nothing grows in our comfort zone. With that in mind, I have identified several areas I have challenged myself to work on. Not with the lens that these areas are things to be “fixed” but more so with curiosity. Whenever I discover a thought or belief I was previously unaware of, I wonder where it came from and genuinely consider how it makes me feel in my physical body. And most importantly, if I can prove it’s 100 percent true.

There’s nothing you can’t do alone

Some people have a real hang-up about doing everyday things alone. Like going out to eat, going to the movies, watching a show…I’m sure you can think of other examples. You don’t need to be with friends or on a date to do anything. If you’re keen to explore the world solo, the more you do it, the more you help normalise it for everyone. And don’t forget about solo travel. One of my favourite trips was a solo trip to Malta, and it was magic! Don’t deprive yourself of experiences because you are worried about what others will think or say. That’s their problem.

Ultimately, happiness looks different for everyone. While I never say never in life, I’m incredibly happy and content during this phase of my life. And I wish the same for you.

Your turn: I’d love to hear your experiences or any thoughts you have in the comments below.


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