A few days before he died, Chris McCandless wrote in his solo travel diary: “Happiness is only real when shared“. He lived on his own, in the middle of nowhere in Alaska and eventually came to that conclusion at the end of his life. His story might sound familiar to you as his life story reached mainstream masses when the book “Into the Wild” was released. But is it true? Is happiness only real when shared?
Can you be happy without a relationship or friends? The simple answer is that friends, social relationships or a partner are a really good way to add happiness to your life. But if you’re missing the basic fundamentals of happiness, like self-esteem, confidence, and independence, then having friends won’t magically solve your problems.
This article covers how you can still be happy even when you don’t have friends or a relationship. I’ve included lots of examples and actionable tips that you can use today in order to become happier.
- You must be able to be happy without friends or a relationship
- Your friends or relationships do not determine who you are
- Learn how to be happy alone first, then expand on that
- Tracking my happiness in order to learn more about what happiness means to me
- Closing words
Developing (and maintaining) happy relationships is a crucial step towards long-term happiness. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. This topic is covered in more detail in the biggest guide on how to be happy in the section Social Happiness.
You must be able to be happy without friends or a relationship
The question that I want to answer in this article sounds rather simple but is actually quite complex. Can we be happy without a relationship or friends? A lot of people will probably tell you that you can’t. They will say that happiness is only real when shared. While they are partially right, there is definitely more to the answer than just a simple statement like this. The answer to this question is not as black and white.
In order to better understand, I’d like to use a small example. Can you be happy without money? This question is very similar to the question of this article.
Being rich won’t fix your unhappiness, the same goes for friendship and relationships
You have probably seen the hundreds of memes on Instagram that joke about how money can solve all of our problems.
I think we all know that these are just silly one-liners that don’t hold any value besides being funny (for some).
Money won’t solve your unhappiness. If you are unhappy as a person and as a result of your life in general, then having a lot of money will not solve that.
The same goes for relationships and friends. Having friends will not solve your fundamental issues.
The fundamentals of happiness
Having friends, a relationship, a million dollars or a jetski is not a critical part of happiness for most people.
In order to be happy, there are more fundamental aspects that you need to have in order. What are these aspects of happiness that are so important?
Here are some of them:
- Good health, both physical and mental
- A level of independence
- A purpose in life
I’ve written a lot of articles about these fundamentals of happiness, like how an optimistic mindset can increase your happiness and how happiness is a choice in a lot of situations.
The truth is, as long as you are missing these critical aspects, it’s highly unlikely that having friends or a relationship will suddenly make you happy again.
If you are unhappy right now and thinking it’s because you don’t have any real meaningful relationships, then I want you to think again.
Are you missing any of the previously mentioned fundamentals of happiness? This can be a very difficult process for some, as I’m basically asking you to look deep into the fire. Are you currently insecure? Are you not happy with your body? Is your happiness dependent on the approval of other people?
These are fundamentals that you have to solve first. Having friends won’t fix your unhappiness, at least not until you have fixed these underlying issues.
You can only love others when you love yourself
I think we’ve all heard the following quote in some form or shape:
Love yourself first
What does this mean? It means that we have to accept ourselves for who we are before we can expect someone else to do the same.
In fact, it’s absolutely critical to accept and love ourselves before wanting to fill the void with other secondary factors of happiness. Just as much as money – or having a jet ski – won’t fix your lack of self-love, having friends and a relationship won’t fix it either.
But what if you’re just bored? What if you have no hobbies and activities that you like doing on your own?
Things you can do by yourself
I am quite the introvert. What I mean by that is that I can go a long time without any social interaction and still be perfectly happy. Spending time with others generally depletes my energy over time, while an extravert actually gains energy from social interaction.
I’ve learned that there are many ways I can spend my time alone and still be perfectly happy. In fact, I’ve asked a lot of introverts the following question: What makes you happy? Their answers helped me understand how many ways there are to be happy on your own, without requiring social interaction. Here’s an article I wrote about how introverts manage to stay happy.
Here are some things that you can do by yourself in order to find happiness:
- Learning and playing an instrument
- Playing videogames
- Watching Game of Thrones and rewatching the Office (or any other series you prefer)
- Running long-distances
- Exercising your body
- Working on a side hustle or a personal project (I love working on this website for example)
- Going on long walks when the weather is nice
These are things that you can do perfectly by yourself.
Here’s where it gets interesting though. These things will not just make you happier, they will also help you in regaining the fundamentals of your happiness again!
Learning how to be happy on your own is a process that will eventually lead you to be confident, self-loving, physically and mentally fit and independent. Hell, you might stumble upon your purpose in life while doing these things. You’ll be surprised at how some people discover their purpose in life, as I’ve written about in this article using real-life examples.
Your friends or relationships do not determine who you are
It’s important to understand that your relationships with others do not determine who you are from the inside. Instead, it’s your personality, confidence, and purpose in life that determines who you are. Other people do not influence who you are.
I consider myself to be a happy person (more on that later). I have a small number of hobbies that really make me happy, some of which you’ll find here. If you’re lazy, like me, then I’ll save you some time. The things that I am passionate about and that are my hobbies are:
- Running long-distances
- Playing guitar (and occasionally singing, although I don’t brag about my singing voice which is probably for the better)
- Going on long walks when the weather is nice
- Playing videogames (currently Battlefield 5)
- Watching series (I’m currently in season 8 of Game of Thrones and rewatching the Office)
While these are things that I can do perfectly on my own, I also love to spend time with my girlfriend of 6 years and my close group of friends.
However, none of these things define me.
I believe that my personality, optimism, my passion for happiness and my confidence are my defining factors. These things are not impacted by my friends or my relationship.
Learn how to be happy alone first, then expand on that
If you are currently not happy, then I hope you know by now that you need to fix the fundamental issues first.
Now, I’m not saying that you should stop there. I’m not saying that having friends or a relationship will not make you happier. They just won’t fix your underlying problems.
Once you have accepted yourself for who you are and are happy with yourself, then you can expand on that positive feeling. The fact remains that happy moments are generally happier when shared with people you love and care about. In that sense, happiness is stronger when you get to share it. But it’s not completely dependent on it.
My friends, family, and relationship are all in the top 10 of my factors of happiness. But this is only my personal situation. As I said before, I already consider myself to be quite happy because I believe my fundamentals are very good: I’m healthy, physically and mentally fit, confident and optimistic.
It’s not because of my social interactions, but getting to share special moments with others often does expand my happy feelings.
So, do I agree with Chris McCandless when he said:
Happiness is only real when shared
After giving it a lot of thought, I have to disagree with him. I think that he was unhappy because he was lacking some very important fundamental aspects of happiness (which makes sense since he was alone in the middle of nowhere living a very inconvenient yet simple life).
Tracking my happiness in order to learn more about what happiness means to me
I want to mention here that I’ve been tracking my happiness for over 5 years now. What does this mean? It means I spend 2 minutes every day to reflect on my day:
- How happy was I on a scale from 1 to 10?
- What factors had a significant effect on my happiness?
- I clear my head by jotting down all my thoughts in my happiness journal.
This allows me to constantly learn from my own happiness. By looking back at my happiness journal, I can see what exactly made me happy and how much it influenced my life at the time. This is how I purposefully try to steer my life in the best direction possible. And I believe you can do the same.
So can you be happy without a relationship or friends? I believe you can. When you’re currently unhappy, having friends and a loving relationship will not magically fix your unhappiness. Your unhappiness is likely caused by fundamental issues that go deeper than just the lack of social interaction in your life. You have to accept and love yourself for who you are before expecting someone else to love you the same.
I hope this article has provided you with multiple examples and mindsets. In the end, if you are now better able to answer this question yourself, then I am happy.
And now I want to hear from you! Are you happy without being in a relationship or spending a lot of time with friends? Do you want to share any personal examples on this topic? I’d love to hear more from you!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.