Whether you call it a grind or a rat race, there’s no doubt waking life gets the best of us sometimes. Employment, families, friends, money, obligations — these things are all necessary and joyous parts of being alive. They’re not all there is, though.
The human mind is effectively infinite within itself. There’s more exploring to do there than most of us will ever find time for. Plumbing the depths of our minds to uncover the treasures there — like neglected ambitions, hopes and interests — is an art that’s best practiced in isolation.
Enjoying your own company can be sublime and revealing. It can also be intimidating. In a society like America’s, which fetishizes the hustle of busy living, it’s even something of a taboo.
Why would a person want to learn how to enjoy their own company? Being alone, and doing it well, isn’t escapism or a guilty pleasure. It’s also not something we should be ashamed of. How can one learn to practice this skill effectively?
1. Learn the Value of Unstructured Time
How much time do we spend each day planning? We even plan our vacations with a ridiculous attention to detail, which feels like a defeat of the purpose. Joy lives in the moment. It is, by design, an unstructured experience.
When we feel obliged to be sociable, even when we don’t want to, we almost always find ourselves doing the work of planning. This usually gives way to fretting. When the fretting’s over, we feel regret that things didn’t unspool exactly according to the plan.
One of the chief benefits of learning to enjoy alone time involves freeing ourselves from planning and rediscovering the joys and benefits of unstructured living. However, there’s a huge difference between unstructured and listless.
Think of it like this: When we haven’t spent time learning to enjoy solitary pursuits, we fill up our time with others. We do even this in isolation sometimes. We scroll through Facebook to peer into other people’s lives and tell ourselves it’s a social experience, but it’s not. We’re still alone. We’re just pretending we’re not, which completely defeats the purpose.
2. Recommit to Personal Growth
Filling up our time with other peoples’ noise — and other peoples’ definitions of quality leisure time — might actually stunt our emotional growth. Learning to enjoy our own company is especially important in our formative years and when we feel like we know what we want out of life.
Being alone can:
- Help us perform introspection that can’t happen naturally in more social settings.
- Give us space to process our thoughts and feelings about the world, versus inundating and coloring our life experience with the opinions and expectations of others.
- Permit us to explore our lives. When we get away from the noise, we can see more clearly what our definition of a life well-lived looks like, rather than comparing our experience to somebody else’s.
There are so many other benefits besides these. You might not think of yourself as a creative type, but creativity isn’t just about painting or writing a masterwork. Creative thinking applies to solving problems of any size or shape in our lives — and it can flourish when we make time for ourselves, away from others.
3. Learn How to Unplug
If you want to learn how to enjoy your own company, you have to know when and how to unplug.
What we’re really talking about here is drawing a more definitive boundary between the voluntary and involuntary social obligations of daily life and the time we spend with only ourselves. Unplugging from the news, from social media and from all the social disharmony we’re treated to daily isn’t just a good idea — it’s essential if you want to relearn how to be alone.
Turn off and tune out. Maybe even consider an impromptu solo trip to a city you’ve never been to. The rest of the noise is all going to be there waiting for you, believe us.
4. Figure Out What You Want to Do
Society doesn’t want us to believe we can be emotionally self-sufficient. We’re told any given experience is wasted if it’s not shared. The average smartphone contains three or four cameras, as though to drive the point home.
What do you want out of life? A considerable amount of being social involves figuring out what other people want to do with their time and drawing a line-of-best-fit between our original interests and theirs. We asymptotically approach compromises on where to eat, where to go and what movie to see, until none of us is fully happy with the final result.
What do you want to do with your time? It’s OK to sit in that movie theater on your own. It’s acceptable to stay in on Friday night with a good book instead of bar-hopping across town.
You are in charge of your happiness, and it’s fine to spend time doing things you want to do, merely because you enjoy them. Don’t wait for permission or the right opening in your calendar.
5. Get Back in Touch With Your Goals
You’ve left something on the back burner.
Maybe it’s your longsuffering novel or a half-built bookshelf. Maybe it’s a bit of landscaping or the cultivation of a hobby or skill. After you’ve learned about the benefits of enjoying your own company, and you’ve unplugged and learned how to enjoy time by yourself, the next step is to get back in touch with your dreams — or maybe just a treasured hobby.
All of these things will feel like big steps, but they’re worth taking. It might be a foreign concept these days, but it’s OK to enjoy isolation — and to refuse to define your happiness the way other people do.