There’s no question that having a support system and a sense of community is important as we get older. Face-to-face friendships matter. Study after study report that friendships are vital to longevity, and to our physical and mental health.
But spending time alone is also essential to our well-being. We live in a tuned-in, turned-on world where we are connected to cellphones, computers and media that continually prod us to interact with others. Everyone seems to be just a text or a Facebook post away these days.
We are always going somewhere, doing something or chatting with other people about where we’re going or what we’ve done. We live in a world that doesn’t seem to value alone time and often discourages it.
When did enjoying a little ‘me’ time get such a bad name?
We keep reading about the ‘loneliness epidemic’ – too many people are spending too much time alone, and this was before Covid. This can be an issue, especially among older people who do not have a support system in place.
But spending time alone has nothing to do with being lonely. They are two very different states of mind. Loneliness can lead to discontent, anxiety or even sadness. Aloneness offers the freedom and contentment that comes from being happy with your own company.
Decades of research agree that too much solitude isn’t good for anyone. Loneliness carries health risks, including a greater likelihood of heart disease or depression. A lot, however, depends on the individual – including whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.
Being alone is a good, necessary and healthy thing. It provides time to reflect, create, appreciate and process the world around us. Even the most social of butterflies need to have regular solo time to clear their minds of distractions.
Spending time on your own offers many benefits. For instance, you become more creative. Research shows that people who work alone tend to produce more ideas. You’ll also feel energized. Spending time alone provides an opportunity to recharge your batteries.
You’re likely to meet more people. We are often more outgoing when we are not cocooned by family and friends. Try a favorite activity on your own sometime. You’ll enjoy it from a different perspective.
Going to the movies alone is a good example. You don’t have to interact with others or wonder what they are thinking. You can focus your complete attention on the story and the experience.
Studies have found that we have just as good of a time engaging in fun activities alone as we do when we’re with other people. We get to do what we want to do. No compromising needed! Spending time alone frees us to do what we want, when we want.
So why are we so afraid of showing up solo or being seen spending time on our own? The answer is: We don’t want others to think that we don’t have friends or activity partners.
We worry far too much about what other people think and not enough about what we need. Start making plans with yourself and stop caring about how your aloneness may be perceived. Being satisfied with our own company and confident enough to show it is what really matters.
Finding uninterrupted ‘me’ time can be a challenge in today’s constantly connected world. Here are some suggestions you can try:
Set aside some time each day to step away from your cell phone, social media and TV. Concentrate on what you think and how you feel, not the opinions of others.
Wake up earlier than usual and use the extra time to think, create, meditate or do whatever makes you happy. Be selfish with this time.
Block out time in your daily routine to enjoy by yourself, even if it is only to enjoy a cup of coffee or take a short walk. Personal time matters.
My book, Retiring Solo, explains how creating friendships, a strong sense of community and a support system can help ensure a happy, healthy, independent future, regardless of whether we are single, married or partnered.
Getting to know ourselves and making time to appreciate and nurture our talents and passions is also essential. Time alone is time well spent. Invest in yourself and learn to be your own best company!
Do you enjoy spending time on your own? What is your favorite solo activity? Do you worry about being seen alone at a movie or a restaurant? What advice would you offer to someone who is unsure about attending a social activity alone? Please share your thoughts and tips!