Being alone and comfortable in your own company is about finding contentment and happiness from activities carried out in solitude. For some, this will sound like bliss, whereas for others, it would be a situation to avoid at all costs. So what does it mean to feel comfortable being alone with only yourself for company? Why do some people struggle to be alone, and what steps can help you be more content in your own company?
What does it mean to be comfortable in your own company?
Finding comfort in being alone hangs on your ability to find contentment and joy without depending on another person to provide it. Many people don’t actually possess this skill, which is why we scratch our heads at those who live unhappily for years in marriages or friends who jump from relationship to relationship without blinking.
Furthermore, being able to enjoy time spent in solitude, especially as a means to recharge or reflect, has also been proven to assist in helping manage negative emotions such as stress or burnout.
People who live solo have long been subject to misplaced stereotypes and misconceptions. The crazy cat lady, the man who never grew up and can’t settle down, the career-driven solos – too ambitious to love or even the ‘it must be you’ stamp that suggests something must be inherently wrong with you. Otherwise, someone…anyone(!) would want to live with you.
Through centuries of storytelling and literature, there has grown an unwritten language and assumption around living alone. Greek mythology even tells us that humans were originally created with two heads, four arms and four legs. Separated by the God Zeus and condemned to wander earth endlessly searching for their other half, the term soul mate was coined, and with it, the thinking that we are not intended to be alone.
There has been a rumbling among the solo community to push back against myths of why people live alone in recent years. Psychology Today focussed on some of the misconceptions around living on your own and remarked there is a clear distortion between what people think of those who live alone and what solos are really like.
These shaming and stigmatising views about people who live alone can lead solos to question their own happiness and wonder if it’s them that needs to change. Yet, one of the biggest things people who go it alone report enjoying is having control over their lives and how they spend their time.
We’ve even written about the 10 reasons why living alone can be good for you. This enjoyment extrinsically links to the ability to be comfortable and content with your own company. People might think this just means you can wake up whenever you want and choose to have champagne with your breakfast without judgment. Yes, this might enter into it, but actually, being comfortable with your own company is about so much more when you scratch the surface.
Why don’t people like being alone?
First things first, don’t get muddled thinking that being alone means that you’re lonely. They are two very different things. Being alone is the straight fact that you are physically on your own.
Being lonely is a feeling that you can have both when you are on your own and equally in a room surrounded by people. Although often used interchangeably, they hold very different meanings. You can be alone but not lonely; likewise, you can be with people but still feel very lonely. Or, both – alone and lonely, or neither.
Here we’re focussing on being comfortable physically on your own, and although the feelings of loneliness might come into it, it’s not the focus of this article. If you’re interested in the impact of loneliness on solos, we have explored this in previous articles; Is there a difference between living alone, being in solitude and loneliness?.
A dislike of being alone can come from many different sources. In a society where we never have to be alone thanks to technology, the very idea of it might feel unnatural to some. For others who might lack activities or hobbies that they feel confident to do alone, the notion of spending time alone might make them worry they’ll get bored quickly without someone else to keep them engaged.
HuffPost looked at why people can’t stand being alone and found a study reporting participants would instead rather give themselves electric shocks than spend 15 minutes alone with their own thoughts. Maybe it’s the realisation that we might not like what we have to say to ourselves that causes people to feel uncomfortable with the idea of being on their own.
This concept of not wanting to be alone with your own thoughts centre around a term call reflection. This is where you process thoughts and feelings, generally after an incident or negative experience, but it can be used daily as a way to keep in touch with your inner self. When left to its own devices, our mind might start to prompt us to think about these thoughts and feelings.
We also naturally gravitate towards negative thinking. Very rarely does our mind offer us praise for something we did well. Instead, it will remind you of that thing you did or said wrong and that you may regret. If you’re avoiding having only yourself to talk to, spending time alone won’t be something you opt-in for.
However, being in touch with your inner self is very closely linked to this idea of being content with your own company. Sometimes the ideas around the inner self are clouded because people think it has to do with mediation and unfamiliar practices.
Meditation and mindfulness do open pathways for people to connect with themselves in new and beneficial ways, but the hidden ‘inner you’ within all of us is rooted in another theory. This theory is called ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and is a well-accepted theory of what each and every human needs to grow, survive and thrive.
At the top of this hierarchy, is self-actualisation defined as the complete realisation of one’s potential, development of abilities and appreciation for life. Arguably this includes being content and comfortable being alone, with your own thoughts and engaging in activities on your own.
What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist in the 1940s. He first proposed the hierarchy of needs in a paper called ‘The Theory of Human Motivation’. Although the original paper didn’t use a diagram to show the different levels, the pyramid (below) is now widely used to indicate the five stages of human motivation.
The theory is that unless the lower levels are more or less satisfied, you would not be able to reach the higher tiers, which then focus on personal growth. Even though published in 1943, Maslow’s paper is still extensively used today and has been added to and refined by both Maslow and other psychologists over the decades.
How to be more comfortable being alone
Unless you genuinely prefer spending time alone, it’s going to take some time before you’re truly comfortable with just your own company. It’s completely natural to be apprehensive or worried that you’ll become bored or spend your days just staring blankly into the abyss. That’s why we’ve put together some tips looking at everyday struggles with being alone and the steps you can take to overcome them.
Worried about being bored or quickly lose interest in something
The step to take:
Explore your interests
Many people fear boredom and fill their lives with constant stimulation or interaction to avoid it at all costs. It is assumed that if you’re alone, there is a higher chance of becoming bored, and we all know that unrelenting feeling of being bored watching the seconds slowly tick by.
There is nothing wrong with filling your time with stimulating things, but it is wrong to assume you can’t do this alone. Start with a blank page and start noting down all the things you’ve ever thought might be interesting. Soon enough, you might have a long list of interests to explore, and the hours will melt away.
If you’re stuck where to start, here are a few ideas:
Creativity is not only great for wellbeing and happiness; it’s also a great way to pass the time. It doesn’t have to be shared unless you want to but let yourself explore your creative side; writing, painting, playing an instrument are all great ways to start.
Have you ever daydreamed about crossing a finish line or completing something that will push your fitness? There are many fitness goals that you can work towards on your own, or at least get started. Physical activity also gets you Maslow brownie points as it directly impacts your health whilst building your self-esteem and confidence as you improve.
Worried about being left with negative thoughts
The step to take:
Be your own best friend
We are often our own worst critics, placing undue pressure and expectations upon ourselves and making it harder to enjoy some of the simplest pleasures. On top of this, we can also be hardwired to think negatively about ourselves. This can be difficult to break, and spending lots of time of your own with negative thoughts can impact your mental wellbeing.
Although it will take some effort to begin with, there are lots of great actionable steps you can take to counteract those pesky thoughts. First and foremost, think and treat yourself as you would a best friend. Would you tell someone else that they’re being silly or aren’t good enough at something? I think not. Spending time on your own is a great way to start treating yourself as you do others. Here are some ways to help on the way:
- Are you feeling stressed or aware that things are getting on top of you? Make yourself a self-care package or spend some time doing things that help you to relax and unwind.
- Need some reassurance? Write it down, say it to yourself or just think of the words of comfort you would offer to someone you know in the same situation. The reason for this isn’t to make you feel silly (even though you might feel this way the first few times). It’s to start making your internal voice a positive and friendly one. You want to spend time with an inner voice when your thoughts are frequently a stream of negativity, and you are determined to turn those thoughts around into something more positive.
- Be present. Finding comfort with your own company might mean you have to go on a slight personal journey. Maybe confronting some of the things you’ve been trying to put to one side for some time. It’s important to work through these feelings or experiences because otherwise, you’ll constantly be chasing yourself. Being present is the ability to be focused and engaged in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or thinking about the future.
I don’t know where to start
The step to take:
5 things you can do right now
If you’re still unsure where to start being comfortable with your own company, here are 5 things we’re confident you can do right now. If you try any of them, spend two minutes before you start noting down what you’re worried about (e.g. I’m worried I won’t enjoy it/ I’m worried I’ll be bored after 5 minutes). Then take a few minutes once you’ve finished and revisit those notes. Was spending time with yourself really that bad?
- Pick up a book. Most of us have a book on a dusty shelf that we were sure we would read. Go and get it now and start reading. See how the time melts away. If you’re not into reading, then maybe listen to an audiobook?
- Pamper yourself. Grab the bubble bath and the tweezers, and from top to toe, give yourself some TLC. Guys, this one’s for you too! Taking care of ourselves is a great way to boost some feel-good chemicals, and it’s an enjoyable way to spend a relaxing afternoon.
- Go and find your perfect spot. It might seem like a strange one, but find your own personal place of perfection. For me, it’s on a bench overlooking the sea early in the morning. For you, it might be the park watching the bustle of commuters on their way to work or even the bottom of your garden listening to the birds. Wherever it is, having a spot where you can feel that wash of simple contentment will help you to find simple comfort with your own company.
- Set yourself a home challenge. Take a walk around your home and pick either a room, the bathroom or garden that might need some attention or a freshen up. Make a plan today of what you’re going to do and will need to complete the challenge you set yourself.
- Start a journal. This won’t be for everyone, but it’s worthwhile even for the biggest sceptics giving it a go. Journaling has many benefits for brain health, but it also can help with emotional health and goal setting. If you want to try it, you can either free write, where you write anything and everything that comes to mind. Or you can follow some simple prompts such as:
Today I am grateful for: (list 3-5 things)
Today I am going to: (note something you would like to achieve)
Today I am feeling: (what emotions do you feel?)
Today could have been better if: (write how you feel)
Spending time in your own company might be daunting, and it can be a struggle for some to get used to being alone. However, there are ways for you to find comfort and be content in your own space in ways that you enjoy and find meaningful.