This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
Sometimes we all get lonely. You might be so used to having people around you to the point that being by yourself becomes strange, quiet, empty. And this feeling of emptiness can be frightening. Here’s what to do when you’re lonely.
What to Do When You’re Lonely
Sometimes it’s nice to spend time alone, but for many people, it’s a depressing thing. We can run to junk food and mindless distractions and sometimes even destructive behaviors, just to comfort ourselves and hide from the fear of being alone.
I’ve been exploring this feeling of loneliness, and I recommend that exploration for others who feel alone sometimes (or much of the time). It’s enlightening.
We run from the feeling of loneliness and try to fill the emptiness with comfort, and that’s a very human thing to do. You might be thinking, “I’m so lonely.”
We want comfort, and we don’t want to confront the distressing feelings we might have.
But try turning toward these bad feelings. There’s a lot to be learned there. Opening yourself up to the feeling of loneliness, allowing yourself to really feel it and see it … this is where growth can happen. This is where you can learn about yourself, and what it’s like to feel pain, and how to cope with it.
Turn inward and feel the pain. Where is it in your body? What kind of sensation is it? What is the quality of this sensation, the intensity of it, and does it change? Be curious about it. I’ve found that it isn’t as bad as I think, once I allow myself to look at it.
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Turn inward and see what else is there: a sense of curiosity, a sense of wanting closeness, a desire to be a good person, a better person, a sense of being flawed. See everything that’s there, really look.
And what you see is the divine. You are filled with wonder.
This cannot be seen when we are with others and our lives are filled with busy-ness and noise and distraction. This can only be seen when we are alone, and there is space to notice, and we allow ourselves to look.
Once you learn to appreciate the wonder inside of you, and find that you are enough, as you are, and that there is happiness right where you are … then you can be OK with being alone. And be much more content alone, or with others.
Once you find this, then find people in a running club or a yoga class or something like that, and be interested in them. Because this wonder is inside of them too, if you allow yourself to look.
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How to Connect with Humanity When You Feel All Alone
There are times when we feel that even if we are surrounded by other people in our lives, we are alone. We must go through this difficult journey called life by ourselves, no matter if we’re married or if we have children or close friends. And that’s a very lonesome prospect. Here’s how to connect with humanity when you feel all alone.
How do we overcome these feelings of loneliness and despair? While common, these feelings can be dangerous if we let them go too far — they can lead to depression, isolation, or just a slump in our lives.
The answer is in connecting with other human beings.
When we connect with other humans, we are no longer alone. We share our suffering, our experiences, our common trials. The misery we face is no longer insurmountable when we have someone to face it with us.
Here are some tips to connect with humanity when you’re feeling alone:
1. Do some kind of activity with others. If you don’t immediately have someone to connect with — such as a partner or other close family or friends — make an effort to get out of your house and to meet up with others.
If you’re afraid of meeting strangers, it helps to find places where you’re comfortable — for example, in a college class, for some people, at a neighborhood spot you’re familiar with, for others. But failing that, try some kind of group activity — a reading group, a running group, a support group, a volunteer group. The activity greases the social wheels.
2. Ask for a hug. If you do have easy access to a loved one, don’t be afraid to ask for a hug — it’s one of the best medicines. That might sound corny, but it’s true. Human contact is something we all need, especially in times of need, and it is a very good way to connect with others.
3. Visit family and friends. If you have loved ones you don’t see every day, get out of your house and go visit them. Just being in their presence, making the effort to connect with them, that’ll go a long way to making human connections. Talk with them, share, bond.
4. Nix the TV and movies. Many times people spend time together watching TV and movies. While that’s OK some of the time, it isn’t the best way to connect with others. The problem with such passive entertainment is that it separates us, even if we’re close together. We end up not talking, but watching.
Instead, play sports, play a board game, have coffee or tea, have a picnic — anything that you do together, where you can talk and connect, is a good thing.
5. Find commonalities. If you don’t have easy access to loved ones, and need to make new friends and connect with new people, it’s best to start by trying to find common ground.
What shared interests do you have? Have you lived in the same place, gone to the same school, worked in the same place? Do you have similar hobbies or passions? When you find that common ground, you can connect.
6. Open up. Once you’ve found common ground, and gotten comfortable with a person, don’t be afraid to open up a little. Of course, you don’t pour out all of your innermost secrets the first time you meet someone — it has to be a gradual opening up. But if you never open up, you will never make a real, deep connection. It’ll just be something on the surface. It’s when people share something real, and personal, that these real connections are made.
7. Practice, and get comfortable. Often we are shy or socially anxious when we are in uncomfortable situations. The remedy for this is to get comfortable, and the only way to do that is to keep doing it, keep practicing, until you’re better at it. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get.
8. Do it in small doses. If the above tip sounds like too much for you — you have a hard time even contemplating practicing social situations until you’re comfortable — then it’s best to do it in small doses.
Start with somewhere you’re fairly comfortable, and just try talking to someone you know a little. Then try someone you don’t know, but in a comfortable situation. Do it one dose at a time, celebrate your success, and then give it another try on another day. You don’t have to make huge connections all at once.
9. Groom yourself. This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how big of a difference this can make. First, being well-groomed and neat makes a good impression on others you don’t know well, and helps them to react more positively to you. But second, and more importantly, being well-groomed helps you to be more confident with yourself, and that makes all the difference in the world.
10. Learn to be a good listener. A very important point, but it’s incredible how many people ignore this fundamental skill. I’ve talked to so many people who I can tell are really good people, but who I tire of talking to simply because they don’t seem to hear anything I say. I listen to them, but they don’t return the favor, and as a result, it’s a one-sided conversation.
If you want to make a connection with another person, you have to begin by listening. Learn to ask questions to get the other person talking about herself — that’s everyone’s favorite subject.
And when they do start talking, learn to actually listen. Don’t just stare with a blank look, and think about what you want to talk about. Hear what they’re saying, respond with appropriate words and sounds and facial expressions, ask follow up questions. If you can learn to listen, you’ll go a long way in making connections with anyone.
11. Help those in need. Aside from just meeting new people, another great way to connect with other human beings is to help them when they need help. Volunteering to help the homeless and the hungry, for example, is a great way to meet new people, to do something positive, to make a difference in the lives of others, and to connect with people in ways that just aren’t otherwise possible.
12. Find ways to express your love. Whether you’re connecting with loved ones, with new people, or with those in need … the ultimate connection is always through love. And the way to make this kind of connection is by first expressing your love — without expecting it to be returned — in any way you can.
How can you express your love? That’s up to you — you have to find ways that are appropriate to the situation, the relationship, and to you as a person — but some ideas: hugs, an affectionate smile, a nice letter, doing something considerate for the person, just spending time with them, telling them you love them, listing the reasons you love them … I’m sure you can think of many more. 🙂
“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” – Michael Leunig
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