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Tiny Wisdom: Learning to Be Alone

“If you make friends with yourself you will never be alone.” -Maxwell Maltz

I’ve written a lot about letting other people in. As a recovering loner, this has been a huge issue in my life, but everything is about balance. As much as we need to nurture our relationships with other people, we need to nurture our relationships with ourselves.

It’s only when we’re fully comfortable being alone that we’re able to be comfortable with other people.

As a society, we tend to look at being alone as something sad and pitiable. Songs like “One is the Loneliest Number” and “All by Myself” make it sound horribly depressing to be without a plus-one, as if spending time alone means you’re waiting by the phone for someone to call or care.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it can be a choice to recharge your batteries, or work on your passions, or discover new insights. Maybe being alone doesn’t have to be the consequence of having no plans, but rather a plan to enjoy your own company.

Roughly a year ago, poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis made a beautiful video called “How to Be Alone.” If you’re not one of the 3.3 million people who’ve seen it on YouTube, now is a perfect opportunity to sit in solitude and watch:

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Sasalool

    Thank you Lori,

    I love this sentance ‘ It’s only when we’re fully comfortable being alone that we’re able to be comfortable with other people.”

    It’s so true

  • Chocokitty27

    Recovering loner?  Why on earth would you want to recover from that?  My husband is on a business trip for a week and I took off work to luxuriate in my solitude.  I can’t imagine not being comfortable with aloneness – I have an endless capacity to entertain myself with books, writing, music, contemplation and movies.

  • You’re most welcome! 

  • You’re most welcome! 

  • You’re most welcome! 

  • Perhaps my word choice was not quite accurate. There was a time when I used to isolate myself–not because I enjoyed my alone time, but because I was scared of people. These days, I love spending time by myself, simply because there’s a lot that I enjoy doing alone. And I’m with you–books, writing, music, contemplation, and movies are all awesome things!

  • Perhaps my word choice was not quite accurate. There was a time when I used to isolate myself–not because I enjoyed my alone time, but because I was scared of people. These days, I love spending time by myself, simply because there’s a lot that I enjoy doing alone. And I’m with you–books, writing, music, contemplation, and movies are all awesome things!

  • Perhaps my word choice was not quite accurate. There was a time when I used to isolate myself–not because I enjoyed my alone time, but because I was scared of people. These days, I love spending time by myself, simply because there’s a lot that I enjoy doing alone. And I’m with you–books, writing, music, contemplation, and movies are all awesome things!

  • It’s kind of sad that introversion is given such bad press in society. As a child, I loved my time alone, reading, thinking, and drawing, but was made to feel as if there was something wrong with me. I would force myself to be more social, but it was awkward, and made me feel even worse.

    The more I learned that I gain my energy from being alone, it’s made me seek like minded people, and I have the kind of friends who know that there are times when I need to be alone, and they respect that, and I do the same for them.

    Of course, I’m married to an extrovert. It has its challenges, but more joys, and we both learn.

  • Sounds fabulous.

  • Somehow your posts always show at the right time. After almost 10 years of dealing with strong relationships, and even moving in to share my life with someone who apparently was my other half, I’m forced to faced the side of solitude. Never in my life was I alone, both in the sens of a romantic relationship or a friendship. I was always told there would come a time where I should face time on my own, and above all learn to appreciate it. Between break ups and come back I really never had the taste of loneliness, and was in fact ridiculously scared from it. Now, it’s been almost 4 months since I don’t set into a formal relationship and almost a month since I started using my free time for ME. No waiting for calls, no waiting for plans, no waiting for anyone. And though it’s not easy, let me tell you I’ve started to enjoy it. I look forward each morning to have this personal space, to meditate, to exercise, to read, and simply to be me, without having to worry about others. And somehow what you say “It’s only when we’re fully comfortable being alone that we’re able to be comfortable with other people.” is so true. Many times I could find myself hanging out with others but feeling quite strange! So I guess its time to embrace my solitude for my own benefit, however in the back of my head stands a questions “would there be the possibility that I get too confortable in my loneliness that I wouldn’t want to open up again to another relationship?” that scares me! Thank you Lori

  • Laura_simpson

    Personally, I think the loneliness they are talking about is having no companion. You have a husband….any normal person would relish in the time they get alone, since it isn’t all the time.  Try being single for a long period of time…it’s absolutely lonely. I have been on both sides of this and I’d take a husband with occasional alone time over no companion at all.

  • Great Post. Being alone though as blissful as it is can be intimidating for some. I personally love my ‘me times’ but walking into a restaurant and getting a table for one is not something everyone is comfortable with. 

    We need to change our mentality of looking at being alone as a bad thing, its rather rejuvenating and absolutely essential. Reminds me of an article I had written a while ago about going on a date with yourself – http://curiouslounge.blogspot.com/2010/05/date-with-yourself.html

    Thanks for the great reminder!

  • I believe there’s a profound difference between solitude and being/feeling alone. I actually wrote a blog post about it a few years ago: http://www.danielleabroad.com/2009/09/solitude-vs-loneliness_10.html. Thanks for continuing to write such thought-provoking articles! I love my daily doses of tiny buddha.

  • Anonymous

    Although I *LOVE* being with other people like friends, family, coworkers etc, and I seek them out regularly along with plenty of hosting opportunities, nothing is  more peaceful, more sweet, and more freeing, than spending time alone.

    On a deeper level, as much as I love entertainment, games, and riding my bicycle, nothing is more peaceful, more sweet and more freeing than doing nothing; sitting in stillness, and just smiling to myself quietly.

    I will choose to let someone visit over getting extra time alone MOST of the time because I love people, but sometimes I prioritize the aloneness, even when I have oceans of it. 🙂 Aloneness is precious! Protect it and seek it with joy just as much as a night out with friends.

    I wish we could all learn that secret ticklish inner smile where need does not exist and that the moment is perfect, especially when there’s nothing in it.

    I have traveled so much through the inside of my person, that I already feel like I’ve visited worlds within worlds. I’ve also moved 25+ times in life and have seen a LOT of places anyway. Travelling to see the world doesn’t interest me as much as, “now why did I feel THAT way in relation to THIS event?” I’d rather BE, then DO.

    I love who I’ve become as a result of cherishing my alone time. I’m a much better listener. I know more about what it is to be human, to feel, and hold in and to express. When people share their lives with me, I can understand them a whole lot more, and be helpful. I know what parts of a dialog are disposable story, and which are expressions of core self. I wouldn’t trade this knowing for anything! The world makes more sense the more I enrich my life with self-connection. The crazy things people do make more sense. And the separation between thought and being has never been more clear (first key to sanity: notice your thoughts, but don’t blindly believe them).

    Not that aloneness truly exists. We’re all dense pockets of energy from the same unified energy field. Nobody is ever alone, not really; maybe to the five senses and to the insecure emotional system, but in ultimate reality, nothing is separate. 

  • Lutz

    As someone who appreciates alone time and quiet, I totally agree with this.

  • I totally agree that alone and solitude are two different things . I enjoy my solitude , I work in the public sector and I have 6 kids (only 3 live at home )6 grandkids all of them are to young to give me stress 🙂 and a husband that commute to another state for work. My kids   feel bad when I say I love to me alone I can read a magazine over and over ,watch  TV, News,movies that I enjoy and just relaxing. I made my bedroom my retreat with everything I enjoy. I am contemplating adding a coffee maker:0 I already have a mini fridge and lounge area Its my favorite place that I can practice the Art of solitude……………drink Tea, or coffe kick off my shoes and hang out with my favorite person ME;)I love Tiny Buddha

  • Completely agree with your insight that everything is about balance.  Solitude and connection are equally important.  Nice post!

  • That was wonderfully enjoyable video! Thank You

  • Hey Lori, So cool that you are top contender for the Intent Web Award! Congratulations.

  • Lou

    Great post!  I have always loved being alone but thought that other people found me a bit odd.  So I would surround myself with people to ‘fit in’  These days I have accepted myself more and now cultivate friendships with people who understand that I don’t need to catch up all the time.  I am still there to support my friends when they need me and I love and cherish them no less than if I where to talk with them every day.  Eating out, visiting museums, movies, travel and exercise are just as enjoyable alone.

  • Definitely, being alone is no fun…but when you have to…you might just want to let yourself go and get yourself into some cool activities you love. The next two hours..you thought went in minutes…

  • Vera, it sounds like we would get along fabulously. =) I really enjoy my alone time, as well. My challenge has been learning to find balance. So long as a make a conscious effort to be social (and not just with my boyfriend, who is also my best friend), I also get my energy from being alone. My boyfriend is an extrovert, as well. He and I have a nice balance, I think.

  • Wow Arielle, I love what you wrote! It sounds like you’ve come to know yourself very well, which I imagine makes you a wonderful friend. I think that’s where my compassion comes from, as well. I’ve spent a lot of time looking within, so I can understand and empathize with people on a deep, emotional level.

    “I wish we could all learn that secret ticklish inner smile where need
    does not exist and that the moment is perfect, especially when there’s
    nothing in it.” <~ I love this. Beautiful. =) 

  • You’re most welcome. How wonderful that you’re really embracing time with yourself and enjoying the experience. I think it all comes back to balance. As long as you’re not isolating yourself (which I used to do–quite different from being alone), I’m sure you’ll be open to a relationship when the time is right.

  • Thanks so much!

  • That sounds great, Lectrice! One day, when my boyfriend and I move into a larger space, I am going to create a room just for me. Ideally, I want it to be a place with a mirror for yoga, a table for art projects, and a sewing machine so I can make my own clothes–a place for creativity and introspection. (If I could also fit a jacuzzi tub in there, I would likely never leave!)

  • I know what you mean about eating alone. One time recently, I went to my favorite restaurant alone, and the waiter said, “Awww you’re all alone! No friends to eat with?” I was shocked by the question (partly because it was so direct.)  I actually really enjoy taking dates with myself. =)

  • It’s true, as the cliche goes–time flies when you’re having fun!

  • Thanks for the link, Danielle! You bring up a great point about solitude versus feeling alone. I actually felt terribly alone when I lived in NYC–and I lived in the middle of Times Square. I think I felt even more alone because I was surrounded by people, and yet felt so disconnected from all of them.

    I read on your blog about the places you’ve lived and visited. How exciting to have seen so much of the world!

  • You’re most welcome. I loved it, too!

  • Thanks Jarl! Tiny Buddha has never been nominated for an award before, so I was very excited to see it. =)

  • That’s great that you’ve made friends with people who understand and appreciate your nature. That’s true friendship, I think.

  • I always have liked being alone, but it gave me always the feeling that this is not ‘normal’. There is indeed a kind of pressure of society to be social and have company all the time. For me, the times of being alone are great and worthwhile. These are the moments of inspiration,  I also like those days that I was being alone for some days and get back in the world of people again to share what I have learnt while being alone.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you like it and can identify! It really is great stuff.  Yup, getting to know me only improves in time! I keep learning. 🙂

    “I think that’s where my compassion comes from, as well. I’ve spent a lot of time looking within, so I can understand and empathize with people on a deep, emotional level. ”

    Exactly!

  • loved this!

  • Rebecacristina

    I’m a loner! When people ask me, “How can you like being by yourself?”. Well, I guess I’m just a weirdo. Honestly, I feel more productive and centered.
    Definitely difficult for my relationships but that’s a different topic.

  • I don’t think you’re a weirdo at all. If you enjoy the way you spend your time, and you’re choosing to be alone (as opposed to isolating yourself in fear), there’s nothing wrong with that!

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  • romain

    34 years and have always been a loner. I used to yearn for attention and friendship, but my reflections have shown that no matter my strivings and desperation, I was and am a loner.
    Sometimes it feels gloomy, especially when I see couples holding hands and playing with their kids. Yet, I am ill at ease in social gatherings and will spend days in my apartment without being too bothered by what’s happening outside.
    I am daily learning to undo the programming of our extroverted, social but disconnected society. Sometimes I fail, but always I am reminded of who I truly am- a loner.
    Thank you for this site and thank you the video. I can accept myself.

  • You’re most welcome Romain. It’s a freeing feeling to be able to accept our nature. I wondered in reading your comment, however, if you crave a little more connection with people (what you wrote about yearning for attention and friendship). Do you feel like you have the right balance of social time and alone time now? (Right for you, I mean–not right in general).

  • Rachel

    I love being alone. But I don’t know how to not be in a relationship. It’s very lonely and very gloomy without a partner to share life with. I’m good at being alone. But utter aloneness is painful.

  • Catarina

    I hate to be alone so this video is probably a help for me… =s I’m really bad being alone but I totally need it = Of course I’m not talking to statues XD but… I might achieve it! (of course I’m going to prefer being with people all the time).

    But thanks for the post! 🙂

  • You’re most welcome Catarina!

  • SunshineOne

    I agree with your post. I just turned 21 and have been studying in aussie for 2 months. Ive been working in the entertainment industry since i was 14 so a lot of my time was spent in school & working. I was always around ppl that when i wasnt, i got easily depressed & antsy. Now, just being married and pregnant i told myself i needed to find the peace of mind & clearness i once had before being jaded by “too much” of everything. I left to aussie alone (hubs comes to visit once a month) but i got to do many things i wanted to before but too distracted to. I have really found a comfortable space in being alone and it’s so soothing. Nowadays when the hubby comes, i almost feel like im being stolen from my ME time cause i cater to him whenever he’s around (willingly) & secretly just want to go back to being alone & enjoying my free space, all for me. I know it’s nothing wrong, i enjoy him so much too but i never thought being alone could be so fulfilling. I thank God for giving me this chance to find myself again. It’s the best thing.

  • That’s wonderful, that you’ve found such joy and pleasure in your alone time! I find some of my favorite blocks of time are the ones I spend taking baths, relaxing with a book, and sitting outside by myself. So long as I’m not isolating myself to avoid people, it’s definitely satisfying to just be with myself.

    I’m curious about what you wrote about your husband. You mentioned you see him once a month and that it feels like he’s taking away your alone time. Do you also enjoy spending time with him? I know it can be hard to strike that balance with relationships, and I guess I’m just curious what you think/feel about that.

  • liz

    For me it’s that I’m codependent and wont make that choice to be alone. It feels weird to me to do something for myself. It feels guilty or like I need to rush through it incase someone needs me. I hate it. I know I just need to “love myself” but that is just a cliche phrase to me. I can’t figure out how to act on such an abstract idea when I’ve always cared for others and not myself. Ug. So depressing. Sorry to subject you people to my misery.

  • I understand Liz. I’ve felt this way at times, as well. Have you seen this post?

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-tips-to-recognize-and-honor-your-needs-in-relationships/

    it’s about honoring your needs in romantic relationships, but I think it can apply in all relationships. Perhaps this will help you, in terms of allowing yourself time/space to do what you need to do for you…even if others may seem to want something else from you!

  • Daniel Misanthro

    you are such an amazing women, what a lonely fool like I would do to find the satisfaction that sprawls across one such as you is infinite, i would marry any feminine voice that can speak so honestly and compose with such simple and radiant a touch as you, thank you

    Hoos7ierrah

  • If Ever

    the more I get involved in social interaction, the more I get involved in an artificial manner. it’s not that social interaction an artificial occurence, but from there rises a need for me to make interaction an honest event. unlike before, I never really smiled back to a trader who smiles at me just to get an attention for me to notice or buy his/her stuff, knowing that since childhood to this age of 33, no one ever really wants to make friend with me, I’m an easy pick of rudeness, mock and anger all my life so what does that smile mean? but by no mean that such thing is an easy thing to do, for every direct mental revenge from them is always unescapable. but the point is, I never wanted that: do we have to play this way?

    for the past ten years, I was deluted into a wishful thinking that someone for me is out there, love is possible so I involved myself into every bit of it but with an incredible intensity of insecurity, so intense that i decided to stop: love is not meant to be played this way. “give it up” I said, so I did 3 or 5 years ago.

    being alone now without an expectancy of someone could see me is a chance for me to remember my childhood in which the mind slipped into stilness and my right hand automatically sketches a drawing, unwillingly, without an effort. a remembrance of stilness, that is, not the real stilness unfortunately. my life now is focused only to get my childhood back, I want to be there again: that stilness in which nothing is necessary: you don’t have to be kind, be this, be that: nothing, and yet everything worked flawlessly.

    the way I see relationship now is: it’s there but it’s not for me, it’s for somebody else. I need to see my own possibility, my own kind of life. this wound of self esteem will stay forever, but human relationship is not everything, I guess, for life has different charm to every
    different kind of people. this is my balance: depression and yet, through every path of the sun, something in me says: “the look of the sunset can not tell a thing that something is wrong” and I could melt in beauty awakened from nap by an incoming sunray through my window, “for this is no small thing”, I said.

  • prabhatjn

    Being alone does not mean being lonely, being alone means free from all psychological desires. So all the ambitions, and status and fulfillments are gone, and you are left with this very moment. You watch this moment with awareness and whether it gives you boredom or fear you watch all that, and hopefully from there on you come upon something truly beautiful. And with that beautiful heart you make relationships etc. that are free from psychological dependencies.

  • Shierika Thompson

    That was amazing, you helped me look at being alone in a totally different way. I needed that

  • I’m glad it helped! =)

  • Sarah

    Thank you for sharing that video – was very profound. I’ve never been okay with being alone, well not since I was little and would spend my weekends riding my bike around and around on my own, enjoying the time with my thoughts and the freedom of being on my own. That joy disappeared over the years and my anxiety disorder always rears it’s ugly head when I am alone and faced with my own thoughts now. I’m not going to give into my anxiety though, which ironically makes me a ‘loner’ by socially isolating me from things I would love to be doing with others, but perhaps with the wrong intention of wanting company just so I’m not on my own, rather than for mutual company and joy. I will start to get to know myself, in my alone time, and stop being scared of being alone. baby steps!

  • You’re most welcome! It’s all about baby steps. That’s what helped me let people in after spending a lot my time isolated–small groups in small doses, and then I worked my way up!

  • anthony

    Just live in the present moment and whatever will be then we will see everything is just phenomenon happening and changing all the time.

  • Kayjaydee

    When I got married my ex husband wanted to be together all the time it drove me nutts. Now I’ve lost my father and getting my divorced I find it hard. I grew up alone. I didn’t do much with people til I was in my 20s. I’ve had a lot going on this year. I kind of wish I had someone to hang out with sometimes and I do get sad. People are too much though.