Staring at your phone wondering if you’re being ghosted (again) can be draining, even for the most confident person. Sure, being single has its pros—being able to take up the whole bed, for one—but it isn’t always easy. And that goes double when you really, really want to be in a relationship.
Certified clinical psychologist Jennifer Taitz has been there. (Yes, even therapists have dating woes.) After a broken engagement, she started wondering if she would have to settle to, well, settle down. Spoiler alert: She didn’t, and she ended up marrying a guy she’s still crazy about.
In her aptly titled book, How to Be Single and Happy, Dr. Taitz doles out science-backed hacks for living your life without stressing over your relationship status. Easier said than done, right? But it’s certainly more pleasant than the alternative—you know, obsessing over how many more awkward first dates you have to go on before you meet someone who recognizes how freaking amazing you are.
Keep reading for five tips on how to be single and happy, sourced from science.
1. Immerse yourself in meaningful activities—and enjoy the moment
“Researchers that study happiness are pretty clear that happiness is more about how you spend your time and [your mindset] than if you are in a relationship or not,” Dr. Taitz says. After all, you can be lonely or depressed and still be coupled up. “Living a happy life is a combination of doing meaningful activities, having social support, and practicing mindfulness,” she says.
By mindfulness, Dr. Taitz means being present in the moment, enjoying what you’re doing as it’s happening. “You could be at the coolest concert ever, like front row seats to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, but if you’re preoccupied by feeling like everyone else is prettier than you or something else, you won’t enjoy the moment,” she says. “People often think first comes love then comes happiness, but it’s actually first comes happiness—and then, the more likely you are to couple.”
2. Recognize that not all your thoughts are facts
Breaking a negative thought cycle—aka I’m never going to find love or All the people worth dating are already taken—can be tricky. Something that helps, Dr. Taitz says, is to remember that not everything running through your head is based in reality.
“When you start to have thoughts like that, remind yourself that not all mental thoughts are true. Rather than choosing to believe something painful, take note of your negative thought patterns and [believe] the opposite of those thoughts,” she says. “That is what will give you the most momentum to move forward.” Repeat after me, even if you think affirmations are cheesy: I’m surrounded by cool, single people—and today could be the day I meet someone amazing.
3. Don’t wait to be in a relationship to pursue your life goals
Dr. Taitz tells her unhappily single clients to ask themselves one question: How would being in a happy relationship change your life? “Maybe you’d carry yourself with less shame. Maybe you’d give yourself permission to relax. Maybe you’d stop getting eyelash extensions. Whatever those behaviors are, start doing those things now,” she says.
That applies to bigger life goals too, like having kids. “I also want to validate how incredibly challenging it is to be single when you want to have a family,” Dr. Taitz says. While she doesn’t pretend that being a single mom is easy, she says if one of your big life goals is to be a parent, it’s worth exploring the options for doing it solo—especially if you’re in your late 30s or early 40s. “I discuss egg freezing, adoption, and fostering with my clients,” she says.
4. Use your past to inform—not sabotage—your future
“I can’t even tell you how many of my clients are so scarred from past relationships or breakups that they can’t think positively about finding love again,” Dr. Taitz says. So what should you do if your painful experiences are stopping you from trying again? First, Dr. Taitz says you need to do everything you can to stop thinking about your ex. That means unfollowing them on social media (no orbiting allowed) and putting an end to talking about them with your friends.
Next, avoid comparing your ex to the next person you go out with. “Maybe, yes, your ex was more attractive than the person you’ve started seeing now, but the new person is kinder and you actually like to be around him more,” Dr. Taitz says. “It doesn’t help you to think back to how hot your ex was.” What does help is thinking of the qualities your ex had that are important to you. (Like, if she was super smart, realizing that’s a value you want in a future partner.)
Dr. Taitz also warns against viewing the past through rose-colored glasses. “Our memory plays tricks on us,” she says. “We often remember the good parts and forget the bad.” That’s definitely not going to do you any favors, either.
5. Don’t put your date on a pedestal (but go ahead and hop up there yourself)
It’s great to be excited about a date—you should be excited, in fact! But Dr. Taitz says there’s a fine line between looking forward to meeting someone new and being overly hopeful that your date is The One. “Fantasizing about a date can be just as harmful as thinking back to painful experiences, because it can cause you to make false assumptions about the person,” she says. If you desperately want your date to be your next boyfriend or girlfriend, you could be blinded to some serious red flags. Instead, she says to focus on the now. That way, you can truly gauge if the person you’re out with is right for you or not.
There’s also another tip Dr. Taitz shares, and this one, she says, is a biggie: Don’t think you have to change yourself just to be dateable. “There are so many dating books out there that tell you that you have to make over your appearance or personality.” That, she says, is not the path to happiness. “The kinder you are to yourself, the happier you’ll be.” And what potential partner could resist that?
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