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How to be happy alone: 10 ways to become your own best friend

Feeling lonely? Follow these expert-approved tips for flying — and thriving — solo.

True happiness comes from within.

And while you can always turn to others for a mood boost, there's nothing quite like being content with your own company. That said, can you really be happy alone?

Yes, but it's all about perspective.

The word "alone" sometimes carries a negative connotation since many equate it to being lonely and, well, sad. However, that is simply not the case as the two words have completely different meanings.

“Feeling lonely is actually completely different from being alone. Loneliness is a feeling while being alone in a situation," Dr. Nina Vasan, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Real told TODAY.

With the right techniques, you may be able to get past this feeling of loneliness, whether you're single, going through a breakup or simply miles away from the people you love. “For example, if you’re by yourself but connecting to others through good communication or activities like volunteering, you don’t feel lonely," she said.

In fact, the ability to enjoy the joys of quality alone time may just be the greatest act of self-love. Not to mention being alone — whether by choice or circumstance — gives you time to be "introspective, creative, or engaged through activities like journaling, painting, reading a book or building something for your house."

Read on for expert-backed tips and tricks on how to be happy alone. Implement one (or all) of these techniques into your everyday life to remind yourself the happiness should always start and end with you. Who knows, you may even find that you're a better friend, partner and colleague because of it.

Develop a workout routine 

Have you ever noticed how your mood improves after a brisk walk around the block? It's no secret that a simple walking routine is beneficial for your health. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure, walking — either fast or slow — helps relieve stress and increase mindfulness, according to research.

“On the biological level, the endorphins that get released from exercising improve mood. Psychologically, the more you engage and the better you get, that sense of mastery increases confidence and self-esteem, which leads to feeling happier," Dr. Vasan said.

It's even better when you can take your workout outdoors, "as time spent in nature also helps to improve mood."

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Stop comparing yourself to others

When scrolling through social media, it's easy to lose sight of who you really are — and what sets you apart. Kathryn Lee, MHC, ED.M, M.A warns that social media can often lead to comparison, aka "the thief of joy."

"Comparing yourself to others can make you feel inadequate, less than, and left out potentially leading you to experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, or low self-esteem," she said.

If you find yourself feeling down, stop scrolling and remember that we are all on different paths. According to Lee, the best way to get out of this negative headspace is to practice acceptance and cut out any of the emotional triggers like Instagram or Facebook.

Curate hobbies 

Your career, family and everyday commitments keep you busy enough as it, but what do you do for you? Dr. Vasan recommends revisiting an old hobby or finding a new one that sparks joy. Go for something that stimulates creativity like taking up photography or signing up for a ceramics course.

Volunteer in your community

Helping others does your heart — and head — some good. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Happiness found that people who volunteer are happier than those who don't.

"Volunteering and giving back helps you find a sense of purpose. By identifying a cause you care about and giving your time to that, you get connected to something beyond yourself, and that can increase your sense of happiness,” Dr. Vasan said.

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Practice self-reflection

Much like looking into a physical mirror, self-reflection is a simple way to gain insight into what you look like — from the inside out.

Dr. Vasan suggests activities like journaling, practicing mindfulness and expressing gratitude to help you better understand who you are and what you need. In return, you’ll be able to connect with others on a deeper level. 

Be bold and try new things 

Remember when you tried kale for the first time and actually liked it? Of course, it can be daunting, but trying new things opens up a a whole new world for you.

Come up with a list of things you've always wanted to try, everything from daring foods to out-of-the-ordinary activities. One by one, check the items off your list and discover a few favorites along the way.

 Lean on animals for emotional support

All pet parents know that they're never truly alone — as long as they have their fur baby by their side. Dr. Vasan couldn't agree more: "Emotional support animals can bring immense joy and companionship to people.”

If you think having your pup or cat with you would help on your solo journey, then Dr. Vasan recommends reaching out to your doctor to see if you can register your pet as an emotional support animal. That way, "you can take them in certain places related to housing and travel.” 

Put yourself first

Although it's often easier said than done, Lee suggests carving out time to really get to know yourself. After all, "the most important relationship we have is the relationship with our own selves."

Treat the relationship with yourself like any other relationship in your life by prioritizing your wants and needs. Maybe that means scheduling daily workouts, reading daily affirmations or setting aside five minutes a day to jot down your thoughts. By filling your own cup, you'll have the space and energy for everyone else.

Related: The importance of being selfish

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Get out in nature

Research shows that time spending time outside leads to a more happy, relaxed state. For example, a 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that spending at least 120 minutes in nature each week improved people's health and overall wellbeing.

Lee adds that fresh air and sunshine can lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, heart rate and overall stress. Stepping out in nature also clears the mind, ultimately leading to improved working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.

In other words, you'll become one with yourself by becoming one with nature.

Live in the moment

So many times we save life's little luxuries — pricey candles, layered cakes, you name it — for special occasions. The true secret to being happier alone is living your best life 24/7, 365. "Don’t wait for someone, something, or a milestone to dictate your happiness,” Lee said. "You have the agency to create a life full of joy and abundance."

Take this as your permission to light all the candles, bake all the cakes and do whatever makes your heart happy.