If youre like meand just about every last one of my single female friendsyou often think that youd be happier if only you were in a relationship. But does being in a relationship really make you happier? And how can you make yourself happier, with or without a mate? I talked to Gretchen Rubin, the author of the popular blog The Happiness Project about all this. She had some great pointers for how single people can get more out of lifeand maybe just find their way to a relationship in the process.
ME: Gretchen, much as I wish this werent the case, every unattached woman that I knowfrom my 24-year-old hairdresser to my 38-year-old former editor to my 30-year-old best lesbian buddywants to be with someone! Any advice on how to feel okay about being single?
GRETCHEN: Remember how much freedom you have, as a single person. You dont have to coordinate your schedule with anyone elses. You have all the time you want to go to the gym, see old friends, make new ones, take classes, meet new peoplewhatever you feel like doing. Dont focus on what you think youre missing. Focus on all you can do. And stop comparing yourself to other people who seem better off than you arelike everyone else whos in a relationship. The more you do that, the less happy youll feel. Think, instead, about people who are worse off than you are: like everyone whos homeless, or whos lost their homes as a result of the mortgage crisis, or people who are struggling through a painful divorce.
ME: Are people who are in relationships actually happier than those of us who arent?
GRETCHEN: There is happiness that comes from being in a relationshipfrom giving and getting companionship and support. But if youre not romantically involved with someone, there are other ways to find those benefitsthrough strong relationships with friends, for instance.
ME: Okay. Im lucky enough to have some great friends, and to be pretty good at making new ones. But do you have any advice for people who have trouble doing that?
GRETCHEN: Join or start a group related to something youre interested ina book club, a knitting circle, a wine-tasting group. Lead a Girl Scout troop. Start taking a regular exercise class or going on hikes with a local organization. Go to the dog run. (Doing exercise and getting out in nature are great ways to add some happiness to your day, by the way.) And make an effort to get to know the friends of your friends! They'll be a great foundation for you in particular if youre moving to a new city.
Another thing: Im not the most out-going person, but Ive made a rule for myself that I need to make three new friends in every situation . Im always on the look-out for them, which helps keep me more open and engaging. So, if you start a new job, say, or move to a new neighborhood, look out for your new buddies.
ME: Yes, you know, Ive been finding that just saying to myself, I should be on the look-out for someone to flirt with makes me feel more willing to talk to people, and more excited about it, too.
GRETCHEN: That's great. If you need a booster, keep in mind that studies have shown both extroverts and introverts are made happier by engaging with other people. (Its just dependent on the situation: Introverts arent going to feel comfortable at a big party where they dont know many people, for example, but will feel better in a one-on-one interaction.) In other words: Everybody likes to have a nice interaction with another person.
ME: Do you have any other tips about small ways you can make yourself happier?
GRETCHEN: My blog is full of tips about how to do that.
ME: Okay, cool. My blog is about capitalizing on all the opportunities there are in life to flirt with people--but to be able to do that best, I'm learning, I have to feel happy and confident! Any tips on how to improve self-esteem?
GRETCHEN: By doing things that you consider worthwhile or admirable. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or, if you dont have time, sign up to be an organ donor. It takes you 10 seconds to register and you could potentially save seven lives! Do things that you would respect in other people and you will gain self-respect. For instance, if you wish people would help you network to get a job, then help other people network. If you wish people would set you up, then set other people up.
ME: So funnyIve been doing a lot of that lately! (In fact, I just introduced my adorable hair dresser to someone!) And people really appreciate it. And I feel good about it, too.
There are also self-contained things you can do to feel better about yourself. Like:
-Get up every morning a little early to go for a runand stick to your new exercise routine.
-Pay down your credit card.
Do things that you can respectand youll have more respect for yourself. Its that simple.