How to spend time alone and love it
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Party of One1 of 9
By Paige Brettingen
Nothing against our kids, partners or friends, but sometimes, all of us really just need a day to ourselves. And, as it turns out, you'll be healthier and happier for taking it, says Emma Seppala, Ph.D, associate director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Alone time has a whole host of benefits, such as boosting your immune system, strengthening your relationships and improving your outlook on life. So go on and mark the calendar. You've got a date with yourself.
Full Attention2 of 9
Do that one thing you "never have time for." Like playing the guitar that's collecting dust in the closet. Or working on the painting you never quite finished. Besides feeling that wonderful sense of accomplishment, activities requiring concentration can boost your mood, says Seppala. "Research shows our mind wanders 50 percent of the time, but we're never more happy than when we're focused on the present moment," she says.
Play Time3 of 9
You officially have permission to be a kid again. Go horseback riding, shoot hoops or re-read your favorite childhood books. Revisiting the things you've always been passionate about (but no longer give yourself time for) creates a state of "flow." "Flow is what happens when we're totally immersed in our favorite activities and don't know time is going by," says Seppala. Being in this positive, playful state is also one of the best stress relievers.
Write On4 of 9
In Seppala's experience, most people often wait until disasters to contemplate what's really important to them. So one of her most recommended alone-time activities is to write letters of gratitude. Besides the feel-good effect it will have on your loved ones, it does you a whole lot of good, too. According to Seppala, research shows that gratitude increases social connection, improves optimism, boosts creativity and eliminates envy and materialism.
Power Down5 of 9
Turn off your phone, email and anything that starts with "i." Spend the day sitting somewhere peaceful, where you can focus on your breathing and simply do nothing. The happy contradiction is that alone time like this—in its purest form—will carry over to your other relationships. "If you connect to yourself, you start feeling more positive emotions," says Seppala. "And when we feel more positive emotions, we then connect to others more easily."
Fear Factor6 of 9
Think of something that scares you and go after it. But before you start hyperventilating, consider this: It doesn't have to involve swimming with sharks or scaling Everest. It's anything that takes you out of your comfort zone, like going to the movies alone or dining solo. In Seppala's observations, women have a much harder time with these activities than men do. "Our brains are trained to think it's a scary thing," she says. "But exposing yourself to it gives you the chance to see whether that fear is even real."
Twice as Nice7 of 9
Spend a few hours scouting out small ways to help others. Seppala calls this "leaving fairy dust." A few of her suggestions: Go through the drive-thru and pay for the person behind you, buy a meal to give a homeless person, or just walk around and smile at strangers. Besides the "chain reaction" that results (nice deed begets nice deed), altruism stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.
Wander Must8 of 9
Skip your go-to hangouts and explore a different neighborhood's cafes, stores or parks. Changing the scenery and breaking out of your everyday routine helps you stop "ruminating," says Seppala. Rumination is what happens when we keep rethinking the same problems or negative thoughts, which could then lead to depression.
Museum Pass9 of 9
Visiting a museum—whether it be art or history—has more of an impact on you than you might realize. Sure, you're getting a dose of culture, but it's also an opportunity to evaluate what you want your legacy to be. "Understanding that there were centuries of human beings before us and centuries more after us gives perspective on the duration of our own lives," says Seppala.