If you're like me—and just about every last one of my single female friends—you often think that you'd 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 life—and maybe just find their way to a relationship in the process.
ME: Gretchen, much as I wish this weren't the case, every unattached woman that I know—from my 24-year-old hairdresser to my 38-year-old former editor to my 30-year-old best lesbian buddy—wants 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 don't have to coordinate your schedule with anyone else's. You have all the time you want to go to the gym, see old friends, make new ones, take classes, meet new people—whatever you feel like doing. Don't focus on what you think you're missing. Focus on all you can do. And stop comparing yourself to other people who seem better off than you are—like everyone else who's in a relationship. The more you do that, the less happy you'll feel. Think, instead, about people who are worse off than you are: like everyone who's homeless, or who's 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 aren't?
GRETCHEN: There is happiness that comes from being in a relationship—from giving and getting companionship and support. But if you're not romantically involved with someone, there are other ways to find those benefits—through strong relationships with friends, for instance.
ME: Okay. I'm 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 you're interested in—a 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 you're moving to a new city.
Another thing: I'm not the most out-going person, but I've made a rule for myself that I need to make three new friends in every situation . I'm 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, I've 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. (It's just dependent on the situation: Introverts aren't going to feel comfortable at a big party where they don't 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 don't 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 funny—I've 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 run—and stick to your new exercise routine.
-Pay down your credit card.
Do things that you can respect—and you'll have more respect for yourself. It's that simple.