I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately.
Is it possible to be happy alone*?
*By alone I don’t just mean when you’re physically by yourself; I’m talking about the feeling of being truly alone (but not necessarily lonely).
Of course it is.
Is it easy? (Now that’s the real question.)
Of course not.
I’ve been doing a lot more of this “on my own” thing of late. It started mid-way through my second year of college (this past year), when I started exploring Chicago on my own, just me, myself, and I. By “exploring” I don’t mean anything particularly exciting or extensive — I just mean that if there was somewhere I wanted to go (a museum, say) or something specific I wanted to do (eat Hawaiian food for dinner), I went out and did it. Alone, on my own time, at my own pace.
And it was lovely.
Now, Chicago, as home to my (at times) awfully stressful and mind-numbingly busy life at UChicago, has kind of set itself up as a place where it might be easy for me to enjoy some quality alone time. Exploring the city as an escape, if you will.
Well, now I’m halfway around the world, and I’m still doing that “hang-out-by-myself” thing. The difference is, this time it’s not an escape. It’s a wonderfully conscious, deliberate choice. And I don’t think it’s weird (though others might beg to differ).
Don’t get me wrong — I love people. I would say I’m reaaally far from anti-social. I love spending time with my friends, meeting new people, catching up with old friends, you name it. My UChicago buddies can attest to the fact that I probably spent 1/4 of my life this past year in meetings….by choice. (Yeah, I’m exaggerating. But I did go to a lot of meetings.) For me, effective meetings promote and embody the kind of productive, engaging dialogue that always leaves me energized and motivated to move forward (feelings that can be hard to come by as a college student!). Maybe the organizations I was involved in left me with an all-too-rosy outlook on meetings. Though the occasional 3 hours of back-to-back meetings wasn’t what I would call fun, I went all the same and don’t regret it.
But, I digress. Let me tell you about the perks of spending time alone.
A great post called “You Live Alone?” by Aneesa at Live. Explore. Learn. Remember. inspired me to take some time to think about whay I like doing things on my own. This post is a little different from what I usually write — it’s not about food or travel, doesn’t have any pictures, and is a bit more ramble-y than usual. But, it’s something that I wanted to share, so here goes.
The Perks of Spending Time Alone
Woo!! Cue the fireworks! Don that red, white, and blue!
All joking aside, independence is one of those words that embodies an ideal that I just want to be. Who doesn’t want to feel independent, self-reliant, and autonomous? What I’ve realized is that I really love that feeling. Maybe it’s a, “Yeah, I do what I want,” kind of thing, but I feel like it’s something deeper. It’s an incredibly fulfilling feeling to know that what you’re doing and where you are result from a very intentional and conscious choice. Like you could be anywhere else, doing anything else, but you’re not. Because you want to be here, now. It makes me feel so alive.
I was talking with a friend about this over dinner, and we were discussing motives for achieving this “independence”. The adventurous nature of the idea — being independent, that is — is a huge impetus for some (like me). But it’s kind of a naive approach as well… Just because it’s an adventure doesn’t mean it will be easy or even enjoyable. In fact, independence often brings challenges and frustration. For me, the point is that getting there will help me grow as an individual. The foreseen (but unknown) hardship will be worth it.
Time to dive in, head first.
2. OTHERS. You don’t have to worry about them.
As a (generally) non-confrontational person, I tend to avoid tense situations so I don’t have to worry about how to diffuse them. I don’t think this is a particularly good trait of mine, but that’s my instinct (as I understand it). As such, sometimes I tend to keep my mouth shut when I want to say something, or go along with someone’s pre-formed plan because I’d rather not toss a wrench into the mix. When it’s just me, the plan (or lack thereof) is whatever I want it to be, and any whim or new idea can change its course.
Such freedom! It’s liberating.
3. OTHERS. You enjoy and value time spent with them more.
A great day of exploring or going places on my own always makes me happier than usual to see and spend time with my friends. When I say this I don’t mean to imply that alone time is lonely (though it can be) — I just mean that I appreciate and value good company more after I’ve had time to myself. It also happens to be a good way to make sure you don’t take your friends for granted.
4. TIME & SPACE TO THINK.
Reflection. It’s a wonderful thing.
Sometimes I just need time on my own to be able to think straight. Maybe it’s after I’ve had a really intriguing dialogue with a friend that’s lingering in my mind. Maybe I’m still trying to understand something I’ve read. Maybe I’m just chock-full of emotions that I can’t explain but need to process. I’ve encountered all of these situations this summer, and each has been well served by some solo reflection time, often paired with writing and some music.
In conclusion, being alone really doesn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoy it, and I think these four reasons get at why. Looks like traveling alone will be my next step!