Acting from Aloneness: A Feeling Redefined

Boys in a Dory, 1873, Winslow Homer (American 1836-1910). Watercolor washes and gouache over graphite underdrawing on medium rough textured white wove paper, drawings. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Boys in a Dory, 1873, Winslow Homer (American 1836-1910). Watercolor washes and gouache over graphite underdrawing on medium rough textured white wove paper, drawings. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Contrary to what popular culture might preach, there’s nothing wrong with feeling alone, or lonely.

In some seasons of life, it’s a valuable tool for personal growth. The more time you spend alone, the more opportunity you have to reflect on your character, personal aspirations, and relationships. The more awareness you have of yourself, the stronger your drive often becomes to better what you need to in your life. But sometimes, if the feeling of aloneness overwhelms you so that you’re only aware of the sadness it invites, it grows difficult to move past it.

I recognize aloneness as a feeling separate from but related to loneliness. Aloneness is commonly defined as a disposition toward being alone, solitariness, reclusiveness, or isolation from others. Loneliness, in my view, is often the feeling that stems from aloneness, defined as sadness from being without other people. You can be alone without being lonely, and you can be lonely without being alone. But if you understand the behavioral tendencies aloneness produces in you, you can better equip yourself to move it forward into something wholly different than loneliness—not a feeling, but an action.

Written below are some ways we each can act from our aloneness to better our own lives and the lives of others:

Create a routine of self-care you can look forward to.

It’s essential to recognize the little things you love about life and build them into your routine. Be it remembering to light candles at night with your dinner because you love the smell of bergamot, or carving out a bit of time during your work week to take a yoga class, go hang out with family, or cook your favorite meal, it’s important. Even if it sounds like a chore doing so, after the fact, you’ll be grateful you made an effort; sometimes when joy isn’t readily available to us at the moment, we can tap into the happiness we’ve subconsciously stored up from taking care of ourselves consistently. This habit also helps foster an air of thankfulness, reminding us to focus on all we have as opposed to what we don’t. When we know what’s right for us and we’re making an effort to build ourselves up, we’re far less likely to be weighed down by thoughts of aloneness. It’s simple and often-stated, but it can make all the difference.

Challenge yourself emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

The desire to sit in the comfort of your stagnation can be a strong one, but you need to fight it if you want to stay motivated in life. Deciding to educate yourself further or take on a new physical challenge is a great place to direct your mentality. With newness comes the excitement of yet-unseen passion. Be it listening to a podcast, trying a different book genre, or signing up to run a marathon with friends, denying the boundaries your fears tell you exist brings so much joy and fulfillment to otherwise ordinary days. Challenging your emotions, too, is perhaps the most transformative act. Scheduling fun events and activities to do with other people and those you’ve always wished to do on your own is one sure way to redefine the feeling of aloneness—what was once a state indicating yourself apart from others is suddenly the instigation behind your drive to be a part of things.

Actively pursue gratitude by looking for the light in life.

The novel I’m currently reading, Gilead by Marilynn Robinson, posits this advice: “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” The lazy part of me loves that revelation: I don’t have to bring a thing to the world to behold how it shines. But it takes courage to be willing to see it. Often, when you’re alone, you think you can only see brightness if someone else is there beside you to see it, too. But there’s infinite light in everything—you’re a beacon of it yourself. So to be brave, then, means not only showing up for the world but showing up to the life you’ve been gifted to rejoice over.

Pour your efforts, energy, and goodwill into other people’s lives.

In a lot of ways—and I struggle knowing this—constant rumination on feelings of aloneness stems from pride. I feel left out. I feel unlovable. I feel alone. The more “I’s” I allow my brain to toy with, the worse I feel. And yet the moment I force those musings to dissipate and replace them with thoughts of other people’s feelings and needs, the acuteness of my situation lessens. The truth is it’s hard to expend effort bemoaning what you lack in life if you’re conscious of the many lives around you who need your love—and not just anyone’s love, but the efforts, energy, and goodwill you specifically have to offer. Every day, I wake up and try to commit to the awareness there are some lives only I can step into and help better. If I show up to my life with only half my mental and emotional capabilities because I’m toiling them away on myself, it’s not going to do other people the good they deserve. So I need to push past myself. I need to use my self-pitying aloneness as the driving force behind acts that serve others.

More often than not, the love I expend circles back to me in ways I never expect.