What’s the difference between being lonely and being alone?

being lonely vs being alone

People connect and confuse these two phrases all the time. They assume that someone who is alone is lonely, and that the only time someone can feel lonely is when they’re alone. Both thoughts couldn’t be any further from the truth.

What does it mean to be ‘alone’?

According to the Macmillan Dictionary, the definition of alone is “without anyone with you.” So, it is a physical state in which you are by yourself and no one else is around.

Maybe you’re alone in your car on the way to work or alone in your office working on a project. It isn’t projected as a positive or negative, it’s just a descriptor that says you are by yourself.

So, what does it take to be ‘lonely’?

Now, compare that to the definition of lonely which is “unhappy because you are alone or because you have no friends.” Unlike the physical state of being alone, this definition identifies an emotional state, and a negative one at that.

When you’re lonely, you’re sad by the fact that you’re by yourself. You’re not content with having no one around you.

How do they relate to each other?

So, does lonely always follow alone? No. Someone can be alone and not be lonely. In fact, some people prefer to be alone. They are comfortable in their own presence and don’t particularly like having others disturb their environment.

And, does someone that’s lonely have to be alone to feel that way? Again, the answer is no. For instance, maybe you don’t feel a strong connection with your spouse, so you hardly talk while in each other’s presence. It’s possible, then, to be sitting right next to him or her and feel lonely.

There are benefits of being alone

Some things are better handled alone for privacy reasons. For instance, if you’re religious and go to confession, that’s something you do on your own. Or, if you take your civic duty seriously by voting, that is also something you do without having another person standing right next to you.

Even if you don’t need privacy, being alone frees you from distraction if you’re working intently on a project that requires great focus. Sometimes it helps to have no one around when you’re trying to concentrate. And, again, some people prefer to be alone. They like the peace and quiet over having others surround them.

What can you do if you don’t like being alone and feel lonely?

It’s great if you like to be alone, but what happens if you don’t it? What if you truly are lonely? Try one of these options:

Find people with similar interests. Join a club or group that interests you. Put yourself around people that you share things in common with.

Start a hobby. Do something you enjoy that occupies your time. Start a collection. Take a class that interests you.

Meditate. Remove the sadness and depressed feelings from your body and boost your feel good hormones by taking a few minutes of daily breathing.

Call someone. Maybe you live far away from your family and friends and can’t just pay them a visit. You can still call them and, if you have computer internet access you can video chat with them like you’re sitting right next to each other.

Exercise. When you’re active, you feel better and have a more positive outlook on life.

Tackle your to-do list. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, use your alone time wisely. Take care of something that you’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. Not only will your list get smaller, but you’ll feel better because you’re being productive.

Do something you enjoy. Take your mind off the fact that you feel down. If you like to garden, tend to your flowers. If you love to dance, turn on the radio and twirl around the room.

Just remember that you’re only as alone or lonely as you let yourself be. It’s up to you if you let people in your world or keep them out. So, if you don’t like where you are, try one of the options above and change it. Kick loneliness to the curb and start living!


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