Finding Happiness Living Alone


With the right strategies, you can be happy living solo. Living alone is a reality many of us will have to face as we get older. 

Some find themselves living alone after a divorce or losing a spouse, and others choose to be independent as a matter of preference. There’s nothing wrong with this, though initially you may find it harder to get the human connections you need to be happy and healthy.

People are generally social by nature. We crave connection with others, whether chatting with a friend, mingling at a networking event, or giving a thumbs-up on a Facebook post. We don’t necessarily have to actually interact with others, either—reading or working alone in a crowded coffee shop can offer enough human contact for some.  

Social connections like these not only give us reasons to laugh and smile, they also offer similar long-term health perks as those we get from healthy eating, sleep and exercise habits. Scores of studies show that people with strong social ties are happier, develop fewer health problems, and live longer.1 On the other side of the coin, loneliness is associated with mood disorders such as depression and chronic health conditions such as heart disease.2 3 

While bonding with others can be tricky if you live alone, it’s not impossible. Moreover, you don’t always have to depend on your social circle to make you happy. Having a mix of tactics in your back pocket can help you reach and sustain happiness while living alone.

Being Alone Isn’t The Same As Being Lonely

Before digging into strategies to ward off loneliness, let's clarify what loneliness actually is.

The American Psychological Association defines loneliness as discomfort or uneasiness from being or feeling alone.5

But just because you live alone doesn’t automatically mean you’re lonely—you can be lonely even in a full house. According to Ami Rokach, PhD, an instructor at York University in Canada and a clinical psychologist, loneliness is not synonymous with chosen isolation or solitude, but rather how connected you feel to other people.6

Still, it can be tough to feel connected to others when the only company you have at home is me, myself, and I. If you’re not careful, you may unwittingly isolate yourself from the world around you.

Loneliness Is Unhealthy

It’s normal to feel lonely on occasion—we all do. It can strike out of the blue or bubble up during life transitions, like losing a loved one or moving to a new place.

Loneliness is often temporary however. In an ideal world, you can coax yourself out of it, turning to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even therapists and grief counselors for support. However, some of us aren’t that fortunate, and loneliness becomes chronic.

Chronic loneliness is most likely to set in when individuals either don’t have the emotional, mental or financial resources to get out and satisfy their social needs or they lack a social circle that can provide these benefits.

—— said Louise Hawley, PhD, a psychologist and senior research scientist at the research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.8

That’s when things can become very problematic, and when many of the major health consequences of loneliness can set in.

—— she adds.9

Loneliness and social isolation increases your dementia risk by 50%, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.10 (Dementia is a general term for symptoms that affect memory, problem-solving, and other thinking abilities.)11 And a 2015 review in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of early death by up to 29%.12

Plus, loneliness increases your risk of heart disease and stroke and is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety.13

How To Be Happy Living Alone

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to finding happiness living alone. However, there are some tried-and-true tactics you can play around with. Implement these suggestions and see where your happiness lands.

Do-It-Yourself CBT

If you’re eager to get started — or you’d rather not work with a mental health professional — there are plenty of techniques you can do on your own to address avoidance.

Acknowledge avoidance behaviors.

Notice when you feel anxious. What are you anxious about? How do you instinctively want to deal with it? Your first thought may be to hop in bed and hide under the covers. Or turn on the television. Perhaps you want to decline the invitation or leave the area.

Jot down your observations. Eventually, you’ll start seeing patterns in your behavior. This information helps you identify which avoidance habits you need to work on.

Practice, practice, practice.

Repeatedly exposing yourself to situations that cause anxiety can help you build a tolerance for it.

People underestimate how important it is to learn skills for managing anxiety-provoking tasks or conversations,

—— says Boyes.8

It also proves to yourself that you’re capable of confronting your fears and managing the feelings of anxiety that accompany them. In CBT parlance, this is known as exposure therapy. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), in this form of therapy, a psychologist creates a safe setting to expose you to the things you fear or avoid.9 This treatment has been proven effective for many problems, including phobias, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and generalized anxiety disorder.10

You can practice exposure therapy on your own by getting in the habit of doing things you find anxiety-provoking. But note that if you’ve been diagnosed with a phobia, PTSD or have had strong reactions to anxiety in the past (like panic attacks), it’s best to practice exposure therapy with a licensed mental health professional.

Start small.

When you’re faced with a situation you’re inclined to avoid, pause.

Ask yourself: What is one step I can take toward my fears and anxiety to overcome my avoidance?

—— suggests Luana Marques, PhD., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.11

For example, suppose you’re anxious about having a difficult conversation. In that case, you might start by writing down what you’d like to say to that person. Or, if your fears of public speaking are holding you back from work opportunities, consider volunteering to read a book to your child's (or grandchild’s) classroom. Gradually ramp up the intensity of the challenge as you do your DIY exposure therapy.

Keep going.

Things won’t always go right when facing your fears — and that’s okay! The fact that you’re addressing your avoidance behaviors signals progress. Don’t allow setbacks to derail you; use them as learning experiences. Above all, keep moving forward!

Avoid Avoidance
To Improve Your Life

Avoidance offers quick relief when faced with an uncomfortable emotion or situation, but any consolation is short-lived. You’ll probably find that constantly avoiding something makes you more anxious and stressed than at the outset. By practicing certain CBT strategies, there is a strong chance you will be able to wean yourself off your avoidance behaviors and ease your anxiety. In the process, your life will be changing for the better!

1 Hofmann SG, Hay AC. Rethinking Avoidance: Toward a Balanced Approach to Avoidance in Treating Anxiety Disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. April 2018.
2 Hofmann SG, Hay AC. Rethinking Avoidance: Toward a Balanced Approach to Avoidance in Treating Anxiety Disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. April 2018.
3 Are You an Avoider? Recognizing — and Overcoming — Avoidance Behavior. The Healthy. June 16, 2021.
4 Avoidance Coping. American Psychological Association.
5 What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. 2017.
6 What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. 2017.
7 What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. 2017.
8 Are You an Avoider? Recognizing — and Overcoming — Avoidance Behavior. The Healthy. June 16, 2021.
9 What Is Exposure Therapy? APA. 2017.
10 What Is Exposure Therapy? APA. 2017.
11 Avoidance, Not Anxiety, May Be Sabotaging Your Life. The Washington Post. June 16, 2023.