When Harry Nilsson wrote ‘One is the loneliest number’ he hit the nail on the head.
Or did he?
It’s true that feeling lonely can be an unpleasant experience.
But being on your own needn’t always mean loneliness.
There can be another side to being in your own company: the idea of solitude.
And sometimes when life gets over-busy and over-noisy, there’s a lot to be said for being able to snatch a little bit of ‘me time’, to sit quietly by yourself, or to do something without the distractions and demands of others around you.
Having said this, if you’re feeling lonely it’s going to be pretty tricky to convince yourself that it’s actually a good thing.
In that case, small steps are probably the answer.
Even a couple of words exchanged with a shop assistant can count towards your ‘5 a day’ social interactions.
In the same way that you should really eat five portions of fruit or veg each day, aim to get to the point where you go to bed at night having swapped a sentence or two with a handful of people – even if they’re only fleeting contacts.
You’re human, so it won’t be surprising if you go through times when your mood is a bit on the grey side.
There’s a lot of us in that boat and I know from my own experience that when the clouds descend it’s easy to become self-absorbed.
It’s natural and perfectly understandable that whenever possible you’d like to go into your cave and stay there.
It’s good to remember, though, that even a little bit of social contact can do you the world of good.
I’m doing well at the moment, thankfully, but recently I popped in to see a neighbour who’d been under the weather.
I only stayed five minutes but I know it perked her up to have a visitor.
But it also gave me a real lift too.
However you’re feeling this week, and however busy you are, see if you can slot in dropping in on someone for a few minutes.
Or just call them.
Doesn’t have to be for long, but you’ll soon be basking in the warmth of the encounter.
Or at least feeling a little less chilly.
I was on a bus a while ago, and three boys of about ten or eleven were sitting a couple of seats in front of me, chatting animatedly to each other.
Apparently two lived in the same home, one with his dad and the other with his mom/mum.
A very 21st century arrangement by all accounts, where a single dad and his son are now living with a single mother and her son.
To my eavesdropping ears it seemed a complex and potentially fraught situation.
Yet these two step-brothers, clearly comfortable in each other’s company and perfectly happy to explain things to their mate, were obviously more than OK about the whole thing.
Just getting on with it.
We can seem extraordinarily fragile at times, yet we can also be remarkably resilient.
Remember that the next time you’re going through a difficult time.
You’re probably not superhuman, but even we ordinary humans have our own super strengths.
I wouldn’t mind betting that on a good day you can get a huge amount done.
You can be productive. Creative. Energetic.
But it’s worth remembering that not every day will necessarily be a good day.
And that’s fine.
When things aren’t so sparkling for you, cut yourself some slack.
Don’t force things.
Do what you must, and park what you aren’t able to.
Then catch up when you have a better day (they do usually come along, even when you’re not expecting them).
In fact it’s probably just as well that not every day is a good day.
If it was, you’d probably end up trying to do so much that you’d burn yourself out.
So what sort of day is it for you today?
There. You have your answer for what to expect from yourself.
Satellite TV seems a pretty clever system. The satellite for Sky TV in the UK, for example, sits 22,000 miles above the equator in a geostationary orbit, but actually it has no idea whether your house is receiving its signal or not. The same signal is blasted out everywhere and it’s the satellite receiver in the house that selects which bits of what you’re allowed to get, according to the package that you paid for.
The thing is, you’re a bit like that satellite sometimes. Not quite as high in the sky, admittedly, but you’re almost certainly transmitting signals wider than you like to think.
People usually know when you have a low mood day, you know. Their receiver picks up your signal even though you may not know you’re transmitting.
The trouble is, others may end up getting a faulty picture. They might think you’ve got something against them, or that you’re being ‘off’ with them.
What we need is the equivalent of a ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ thingy. Hanging a sign around your neck isn’t a good look. But the occasional ‘Sorry, I’m just having a bad day’ can work wonders.
Who knows, it might even get you a modest slice of sympathy?
I recall a morning a while ago when I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the amount I’d got to do.
It’s easy to panic when this happens. And it’s also easy to think that such feelings are totally negative and undesirable.
The thing is though, a lot of our unpleasant emotions serve very good purposes.
Let’s take that sense of hopelessness about all that ‘had’ to be done, for instance.
When I weighed it up, I wasn’t wrong: I did have too much to do.
In a day.
But not, perhaps, in a lifetime.
Once I’d stopped to think about what I could practically achieve that day, and then ‘parked’ the rest for another time, things got better.
Negative emotions are sometimes like the warning lights on a car’s dashboard. They’re there for a reason, and are definitely not meant to be ignored.
Just as you took the conscious decision to read this message, you’ll have many other choices that you can make today.
What to eat for lunch. The order in which you’re going to do things. What to wear.
But it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we generally all have a degree of freedom in how we’ll react to today’s events.
If someone behaves hurtfully, you can get angry. Or you can wonder what’s gone wrong for that person to cause them to act in this way.
If you lose something, you can get cross with yourself. Or you can patiently set out to find or replace it.
Or even ask whether it really was that important after all.
If you’re running late for an appointment, you can get worked up. Or you can breathe deeply, accept your predicament, and calmly take whatever steps are necessary.
The thing is, you usually do have a choice. Even when you think you don’t.
To some extent you can’t help your mood ‘leaking’ if you’re feeling low. You might (as I did for many years) try to wear a mask, to pretend to the world that absolutely nothing is wrong. But that doesn’t stop those who know you well picking up little signals.
The trouble is, those little signals can be misinterpreted and it’s all too easy for the people who are close to you to believe that you’ve somehow got it in for them when actually you’re fighting to keep in your own bad thoughts.
So why don’t we just own up? Why don’t we tell people ‘Sorry, I’m just feeling awful at the moment’?
It could be for lots of reasons. Maybe we don’t want to bother them. Maybe we’re embarrassed. Perhaps we feel they might judge us. Lots of reasons.
The thing is though, proper friendship is about letting others in and swapping your inner (if not always your innermost) thoughts.
How good do you feel when someone who you care about truly takes you into their confidence?
Opening up to someone close to you isn’t a selfish thing to do. It’s actually just the opposite. You’re showing you trust them and demonstrating that you value them.
It can bring you closer to each other. Give it a try.