Being Alone vs. Being Lonely

I read an article today about loneliness in which Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warns about its risks, and I wanted to share some thoughts. The article is here: It is very important to heed the warning, and to find positive ways to cope with being alone. If you are someone who lives alone, a good way to think about it is to be conscious of it in a positive manner. I tend to find that thinking about it in terms of “being alone” vs. “being lonely” is a much healthier mindset.

Many people are alone. Some people choose to be alone, some do not have much choice, and some isolate. People are gregarious. It is in our nature, biologically, to be around other people. In the article linked earlier, Surgeon General Murthy basically stated that loneliness can be similar to hunger or thirst with the body crying out for something that it needs to be satisifed. This is so true! People have many needs that are satisifed by interacting, in-person, with others – and I’m talking about positive, healthy interaction. It’s not necessary that I list or identify all of those needs here – I’m sure everyone can make up their own list. So, when that interpersonal interaction is missing at a high level, it can cause the feeling of craving connection, being “hungry” for companionship, and the need to fill a feeling of void or emptiness. And, I’m not necessarily even talking about intimate companionship, but simply interacting with others, in-person, in healthy and positive ways.

Surgeon General Murthy has called loneliness in the United States an epidemic. That is pretty serious. But, it’s also one thing to talk about it, and quite another thing to do something about it. How many communities out there offer inclusive groups for people to join that offer interesting activities? Some communities have groups for seniors, groups for people who play sports, and so on. But, what if you work and you can’t meet with a group during the times that are offered? Or, what if there are age restrictions in some of the groups that exclude you? As a result, people may seek other opportunities for in-person interactions with others. Many people look to churches or faith groups. Sometimes, however, they do not offer the types of groups one may be interested in, they may be quite exclusive, and/or they may not be “enough” of what someone wants. Sometimes, people are limited by location, and may be interested in groups or activities, but who wants to drive one or two hours each way to participate?

What I’m saying is that if “loneliness” is such an epidemic, people need to take it more seriously and do more to positively address it. If people are alone and/or feeling lonely, do something about it. If you are not finding what you are seeking out in your community or society, you have to take charge and fix it for yourself. Don’t wait. Don’t sit around. Don’t expect someone else to fix it for you. Find more enjoyable activities to occupy yourself, outside of working or other necessary responsibilities.

If you are too plugged in to technology, check out of it for awhile. Give your brain a break from it and do something else. Get in touch with yourself. Do more for yourself. Take a walk outside, take yourself out to eat, to the movies, to a concert, shopping, working out, vacationing, traveling, journaling, listening to music, etc. Call a friend, reach out to people, write to someone. You don’t know what will happen unless you try. Find and be active in hobbies that you enjoy, like writing, photography, playing an instrument, hiking, swimming, bird watching, star gazing, scrapbooking, baking, cooking, sewing, playing sports, you name it. What is stopping you? How many excuses do you have? Don’t let excuses stop you.

Also, you can’t allow what other people “think” about you or what you do or don’t do to influence your decisions. The reason I say this is because I’ve heard people tell me (particularly women, but also men) they didn’t do something because of what others or “society” would think about it. So what! I do things, myself, all the time. I think it’s just part of my internal wiring. I was raised to be independent and self-sufficient. It was prized in my family, growing up, to be able to “do” things yourself, so that’s what I did. I do so many things, myself, that I don’t even hesitate to think about what “society” thinks I should or shouldn’t do. If I always lived by societal expectations, I wouldn’t be where I am now and I would be so much more limited.

Probably the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life – transitioning my dad from medical care to comfort and complete home hospice care, I made myself. I’ve gone traveling half-way around the world through two dozen different countries by myself. I’ve lived and worked in a huge city – New York City – by myself. For a long time, I held and watched the growth of certain stocks – and made money on my investments, myself. I’ve changed the oil in my car, by myself. I’ve gone up on my house roof and done repairs, by myself. I’ve bought and sold my own personal vehicles, myself. Heck, I’ve even used a chainsaw, myself. You name it, I can pretty much do it myself – or I can hire someone to do it for me. You can’t be afraid of what the “world” will think of you. If you do, you are just limiting yourself and denying yourself experiences and opportunities. Admittedly, there have been a couple of periods in my life, however, when I was “stuck” and had difficulty making decisions, and others either directly or indirectly influenced me to get back on track, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Ultimately, being lonely is no fun for many people. It can cause depression, anxiety, isolation, and other mental as well as physical health issues. Don’t let it. Be aware of yourself and love yourself because you deserve better. Don’t allow the world to beat you up. My Polish grandmother basically said, “Do not beat yourself up because the world will do that for you.” This is something that I often remember and share with others. Don’t let others, the world, or your circumstances steal your joy! It is not worth it. Life is too short not to enjoy it as much as possible.

For starters, if you are alone, think in a positive mindset that you are “alone” vs. that you are “lonely.” I can almost guarantee that this slight change in cognition will help lift the feeling of burden that is caused by loneliness. It truly is much healthier and more positive to have the perspective of being alone rather than being lonely. And, if you are feeling cravings like hunger from being alone, find positive outlets to satisfy that hunger. I don’t necessarily mean just finding one or two outlets, find and be active in multiple positive outlets, daily. Sometimes, we cannot change some of the cards that life has dealt us, but we can find positive ways to love, help, and support ourselves, whatever our status.