Loneliness isn't very good for humans in general, at least in large doses. But a little bit of loneliness can be beneficial. If you're feeling a lack of social connection in your life temporarily, it provides a few excellent opportunities that can be seriously productive for your friendships, your family, your personal growth, and a few other aspects of your life. Being on your own and not enjoying it doesn't have to be a social death sentence; it can be the start of bigger things, from weeding out toxic friendships to understanding what you really want from your social connections. So if you're feeling lonely tonight, don't just sit there feeling miserable — get proactive.
Loneliness can actually draw us into a psychological trap, science has found: the sensation of social isolation and being "walled off" produces defensiveness and grumpiness. The stereotype of the grumpy, lonely old man reproduced so well in Pixar's Up is, it turns out, actually true. But it can also produce some fruitful psychological benefits, some of which may help you prevent more loneliness from occurring in your future.
Here are seven productive things about being lonely, and the chances it gives you. Sure, the feeling is unpleasant sometimes, but it's definitely got some potential.
1. You Can Evaluate The State Of Your Friendships & Life
So you're feeling isolated, a bit out of touch, and upset at the prospect of time alone. If your friends aren't around, this is a good chance to step back from the friendships and have a look at how they're going. Sometimes nasty patterns can be concealed by everyday interaction, or good things can be obscured without a bit of reflection. Is somebody getting a bit too free and easy with your boundaries? Pushing you to do stuff you don't want to do? Needing a bit more support from you? Experiencing life changes that may be altering your friendship as well?
And what's happened in your life that's created the conditions for this isolation? Have you worked a lot, are friends very busy, is there drama, is everybody in a period of unstable change or focusing on something else (like a wedding), or what? Keep a big-picture view; it'll help you focus on what you can do to feel more connected.
2. You Can Redefine Your Expectations
I've written about the psychological definition of loneliness before. Basically, it's a mismatch between your expectations of your social life and connections, and what actually happens. So a time of loneliness is a really excellent period to sit down and evaluate what those expectations are. Do you want friends who agree with your every word? Who love clubbing and want to come out all the time? A family that gets together and calls each other frequently? The kind of sentence-finishing girl-clique you get in the movies? What about your current situation is falling short, and what about it is unrealistic or needs to change?
3. You Can Take The Opportunity To Invest More Time In Yourself
As much as you're a social animal, you do also need and deserve alone time. Now is the time when you don't have to perform for anybody; you can just focus on self-awareness, evaluation of your life goals, anything that you want. You are the complete and sole center of your own attention, and that can be a seriously productive thing with a lot of potential for growth. Hey, you may even discover you actually don't like doing the stuff you used to do with your friends.
4. You Can Discover Better Ways To Reach Out
What about your current situation is giving you the aches? Is it a lack of authentic communication and a feeling of disconnection? Now might be a good time to revise that. If you're not getting a sense of real social fulfilment from texting or seeing people briefly, take this time to schedule full-on events, like long phone calls, entire days out, or just having people over to watch movies on your couch. Take the opportunity to diversify the ways in which you communicate.
5. You Can Use The Feeling As Your Cue To Take A Break From Social Media
Loneliness can make you aware of just how much you depend on other people and their approval and attention, and that can be a pretty scary thing to realize. It can be productive to push that further, though: why not stop talking on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other friend-fishing platforms you've been using, and see how it makes you feel? Perhaps it'll make you paranoid, or panicky about missing out, or just free of a kind of performing burden. Either way, this is a valuable thing to know about yourself.
6. You Can Explore The Stuff Other People Judge You For
None of your friends particularly into The Wire? You've got a secret long-term love for bad anime or Star Trek fan fiction? Now's the time to indulge it. Get into all those little habits and loves that you feel as personal and intimate, rather than something to be shared with others. Guilty pleasures can be the best pleasures, seriously. And bonus: many of them come with their own communities, so you can build a bigger social circle in an entirely new area.
7. You Can Learn To Try New Things Alone
If you've always been the person who needs social validation and a hand to hold when you're embarking on a new thing, a time of loneliness can be an opportunity to break that habit. The idea that isolation is terrifying can be altered if you spend the alone-time doing powerful, exciting things on your own, and enjoying the experience fully. This can be scary and also suck, but it's also a seriously affirming thing.
Go join a Dance Dance Revolution tournament, or a cooking course that focuses exclusively on that ravioli you like. Use your loneliness for good! You are a superhero learning how to kick ass at ravioli-formation, and you don't need nobody to get you there!
Images: martin-dm/E+/Getty Images, Giphy