The art of enjoying your own company is one well worth acquiring
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “If you feel lonely when you’re alone then you’re in bad company.” Sartre was not renowned for his gregarious nature (or gentle words), so try not to take this to heart if you, like many of us, find being alone a little, well, lonely.
But there’s definitely truth in what he says and learning to love your own company is something that can enrich all our lives, whether we are alone regularly or very seldom.
In our May issue, we have a feature by Ella Foote, a keen wild swimmer who set off solo in a campervan to discover the wilder parts of Scotland. Her description of her break with herself made us all want to down tools immediately and enjoy some time alone:
“While I love the company of others, and I would describe myself as extrovert, I have learnt in recent years the joy of solitary exploring. There is a magical thing that happens over time spent alone, particularly when travelling. The first few days are a whirlwind as you begin the journey, excited, discovering and moving. Then, as you settle into routine, you make space for your fears and worries to visit. They can sit at the table while you drink wine and eat shellfish on the Amalfi Coast, or lie on the hot stone with you while you enjoy the lick of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. I have found there isn’t much to do other than to pull out the chair and let them join you. Facing them rather than numbing them, like we do in our day-to-day lives, gives you a chance to understand and accept them. This is followed by the best bit of travelling alone: you create a huge opening for the new. You see, hear, smell, taste and dream bigger than you remember you are capable of.”
If you like the idea of some time spent in your own company, here are a few tips on how to make the most of it:
Being alone at home:
Enjoy the freedom of not having to put on a face for anyone. In your own home, you can sit in your underwear and eat beans out of the tin if you want to. No one will judge you because no one will see! That said, there’s also something wonderful about cooking yourself your favourite meal, choosing the best ingredients from your favourite shop, spending a relaxing afternoon cooking and then enjoying your meal on your favourite crockery. Because you’re worth it.
Take up a new hobby. If you’re worried about boredom in your time alone, use the opportunity to learn a new skill - it could be a craft you haven’t tried, or learning a language online. What it is matters less than the chance to do something to stretch yourself without having to worry about the pace you go at or whether anyone else is enjoying themselves.
Be creative. Most of us grown-ups don’t get to spend time painting a picture or writing a poem very often. When you’re alone, you have space to let your mind wander and be as creative as you wish without fear of judgement. Heck, you can make up an interpretive dance routine if you like. Just close the curtains if you’d rather not get a standing ovation from the neighbours.
Appreciating going solo out and about:
Be a flaneur. Take a leaf out of Walter Benjamin’s book and wander with only the purpose of strolling about, observing and experiencing life going by. If easier, pretend you are wandering the streets of Paris in the 19th century, but any town will do.
Get close to nature. When you’re in company it’s so easy to miss what’s all around you. Head to a park or forest, where you’ll hear the birdsong you would miss if you were chatting to a companion, notice the small changes in season that would otherwise pass you by and stop whenever you want to look more closely at the natural world, all at your own pace.
Eat alone. The idea of a restaurant meal without company terrifies most of us but once you’ve done it a few times there’s nothing that feels quite so serene as a meal with oneself. You can watch the world go by, smirk inwardly at the couples bickering and the groups of friends dividing a bill with difficulty, while enjoying your meal in your own marvellous company - and no one can steal your chips!
You can read more from Ella Foote in this month’s The Simple Things, which is in shops now.