A complete guide to aloneness and loneliness
Let’s make an important separation first. Alone does not mean “lonely”. We often say stuff like “I’m all alone.” and mean it in the sense that we are feeling lonely but there is an important difference here.
We “are alone” but we “feel lonely”. To be alone is a fact while to feel lonely is a perception. While facts aren’t modifiable, perceptions can be changed.
Despite the two are often set as a pair, they don’t have to. Experience is what has made us make this connection. What can we take from that then?
Understand what being alone is
The definition from the Merriam Webster defines the word “alone” as:
Separated from others
It is a situation in which we are not surrounded by others and, as such, we are left alone.
Nowadays, this is a rare situation in itself. We are constantly connected to friends, family and work through our smartphones. Convenient? Sure. Awesome? We’ll dive later into why not so much.
Understand what feeling lonely is
Noone “is lonely”. If you say you are, you mean that you are feeling lonely. Feelings are fleeting and evolve based on our perception of the world acquired through various experiences throughout our life.
In general, feeling lonely is a reaction to being alone and disliking the experience. This gives us a peek into why this feeling could be modified: it is a simple reaction.
It is also often created by a habit of having someone (or some people) around and suddenly losing it. It could be seen as a craving for contact and may explain why many people living abroad feel lonely as they are separated from the people they love.
Should you feel lonely when you are alone?
That’s a complicated question because there is no clear “good” answer. Feeling lonely is part of life and we can never get rid of the feeling entirely. We shouldn’t even try to get rid of it because its existence itself makes us better people.
Wait, feeling lonely is… good?
Yes, it’s, in a way, what makes us human. Our need for others is what pushes us to strive in society, what energizes us to do more.
BUT! What isn’t good is when we constantly feel lonely. If you become overwhelmed with loneliness, then you cannot control yourself and make use of this feeling. And so…
It all starts with enjoying being alone
And I don’t mean alone in the sense of “at home, checking out some YouTube videos or playing games”. I mean alone in silence, doing nothing.
What’s your typical hour the moment you get home in the evening?
Mine has been to put on some music or YouTube video and sitting down with a drink. Or maybe cooking while watching Netflix. Or playing a game. Or having a call. What is common in all of those?
No matter what I did, I always had sounds coming in my ears, blocking my thoughts from popping and thus avoiding any potential negative thinking. That could be good but do you know what else was blocked? Positive thinking. Ideas. Introspection.
I started meditating last year. Not long. Just 5 to 10 minutes a day. But that still felt like ages as my thoughts were left raging away and messing with me.
- Why did you do that?
- How will you fix that?
- Couldn’t you have done this better?
- What’s the plan for after this? And after that? And tomorrow? How about next week? Oh, and who will be at that party next month already?
So many interrogations I often ended up more tired than anything else after meditating at first. But as time passed by, I got used to it. It felt “better”. Then just “good”. Then finally, it started revigorating me. Why?
Because I got used to the silence around me and being alone in it started to be awesome. I could learn more about me, what I thought, how I thought, and I also started to appreciate the moment instead of always looking back or forward.
My zazen experience two weeks ago proved how at ease I became with silence.
Use the silence
Meditating is great and we should all meditate regularly. I’ll attest to it any time now. Even though I used to have a very different opinion on it.
But it isn’t the only time you should be alone in silence. While it helps to learn to endure it and then appreciate it, wouldn’t it be great if you could make use of it?
As we’ve already established, silence makes your brain go wild most of the time. But, as you get used to it, you become able to control those more and can direct them towards something productive.
For this, you’ll need one single mental state: positivity.
Wait, you’re saying you’re feeling lonely and not positive? Ok then, let’s fix that.
Learning to use loneliness
I feel lonely quite often nowadays. After all, losing my grandmother and breaking up with my girlfriend hit me pretty hard. I lost two people I loved in less than a week.
But loneliness is still just a feeling and feelings come and go. Often enough, they’ll keep coming back until you’ve accepted them in their entirety.
However, since they do go away before coming back, you can learn to push their return just a bit further… and then a bit more.
Unfortunately, there is no one way to do this. You have to learn to find what triggers you to move forward. Maybe it’ll be a motivation video. Maybe it’ll be a call to a friend. Maybe a book will do it. Or maybe 30 minutes of a game will be sufficient.
Find what triggers positivity in you and whenever you start feeling lonely-er, just use the trigger again. When it works, you’re all good until the next “loneliness wave” comes.
When it doesn’t, accept it and live it in the present. No need to think about the past or future. Admit you are feeling lonely and live the experience so it can, once more, go away in a little while.
Loneliness usually comes from a feeling of abandonment so use each opportunity to find and understand the root cause of this feeling.
- What went wrong?
- What could have been improved?
- Why is that making me feel sad?
- How could I get over it?
But avoid one question: “Why me?”. This will eat you and is a rhetorical question with no answer, and as such, a vicious circle to keep you feeling lonely. Instead, be positive even in the hardest situations. You’ll become stronger.
How can you create positivity?
And finally, we’re back to the most important thing of the day. Oops, sorry. I meant “the most important thing in your life”.
Being negative never brought anything good in anybody’s life. We all know it and we’ve all wished we were more positive at least once in our life. Yet, a common misconception is that you are either born positive or not.
We aren’t. It’s a skill like any other and what makes it complicated to develop is the absence of a clear sign of improvement. This is unfortunate, but since you now realize it’s a skill, let’s develop it. And luckily, it’s quite easy.
The best thing to do is to start by writing a gratitude journal. Every day, write 3 (or more!) things you are thankful for the previous day. Especially if it was the worst in your life! Striving to find the positive in the middle of a lot of negative facts, pushes you to look deeper and appreciate tiny things.
For instance, the day I broke up with my ex, I was thankful for the long exchange I had with her as well as the tears I shed.
At first, it may be tough to find positive aspects in your life because you lack practice, so just look up from your phone and say thanks to the nature around you. That person who let you go first in the shop. This bird singing as you pass by. The sun passing through the trees. The chilling wind scorching your face and waking you up that early morning.
From there on, you can combine everything and have a great life ahead. By being positive, you learn to appreciate the silence more easily, which makes you become at ease with aloneness. And feeling lonely will also become an opportunity for you to look forward instead of backward.
And I’m sure you’d love feeling good when you are alone. Wouldn’t you?
Still thirsty for more learning and discovery? Consider signing up for my newly created weekly newsletter in which I share insightful articles I read, along with my newest ones too.