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Are You an Older Woman Who'll Be Alone on New Year's Eve?

Here are some ideas to help you happily usher in 2024.

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illustration of woman wearing glasses with different scenes related to the new year
Kaitlin Britto
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Most of us have reached the age when standing in New York City's Times Square in the cold among thousands of screaming revelers or going to a raucous party sounds about as pleasant as getting a root canal. Still, New Year’s Eve can be a lonely time, especially if you find yourself without plans or far from loved ones.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Many years ago, I interviewed actress Barbara Feldon (Agent 99 on the iconic TV show Get Smart and author of Living Alone and Loving It), who offered some sage advice: “Living alone can actually make you more available and open to the world around you,” Feldon said. And that goes for New Year’s Eve too.

Here are some ideas for ringing in 2024 if you’re on your own.

Plan ahead: Don’t wait until the last minute to make a date. Start early and reach out to friends and family to see if they have any gatherings or events you can join. When I lived in New Jersey, our small town held an annual New Year’s Eve stroll through the beautifully decorated streets downtown. Carolers and musicians performed along the way. Hot cocoa and s’mores were served, and the evening ended with a blaze of fireworks.

Local celebrations like these can provide a sense of belonging and excitement. Look for town-sponsored events being held at your local community center or YMCA; install the Meetup app on your phone and check for "New Year’s Eve Celebrations." Or go to our very own Ethel Circle Facebook group page and organize a get-together in your community.

Host: Consider hosting a New Year’s Eve gathering at your home. Invite friends, family, co-workers, your widowed neighbor, and people in your circle who don’t have plans either. Whether you end up hosting one person or a group, it ensures that you’ll have plans — and you’ll be creating a warm atmosphere for others who may be seeking company as well. I often take the reins and plan potluck holiday celebrations. In addition to food, I’ll invite my guests to bring along other friends who don’t have plans — a great way to start the new year with an enlarged social circle.

Call someone who loves you: Whether it’s your mom, your best friend from the 7th grade or your niece without a date, having a long and meaningful connection — this is where Zoom calls are saviors — with someone you love is a sure way to brighten the night, for you both. Have a Happy Hour (or two) with each other, screen to screen.

Well into her 90s, my beloved Aunt Marcia had Alzheimer’s. But she never failed to recognize my voice on the phone or to revel in remembering my childhood exploits. I treasured our talks, which always made both of us feel good. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms the need to connect, finding that "the more time people spent interacting socially during a particular hour, the happier they felt."

Volunteer: There’s no better way to take the focus off feeling lonely than to give back. According to numerous studies, such as those reported in Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning, altruistic behavior releases endorphins and boosts happiness for us as well as the
people we help.

Giving back may even give us sharper minds as we age. According to a 2023 study from the University of California, Davis: “Volunteering may be important for better cognition in late life and could serve as a simple intervention in all older adults to help protect against risk for Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias.”

You will find plenty of new like-minded friends if you trade in a lonely New Year’s Eve for making lives better, including your own, by volunteering at a soup kitchen, a children’s hospital, an assisted living center or elsewhere. Or, just bring a hot dinner over to a friend in need or one stricken with disease.

Invite serendipity: “Consider hanging by yourself an opportunity, not a liability,” were some more wise words from Barbara Feldon. Find a museum or other cultural institution that's open on New Year’s Eve. Or, think about taking a mini-vacation — even if it’s only overnight at a bed and breakfast or a hotel that has a pool. “Sure it can be hard to go places by yourself, but it can be worth the effort,” Feldon told me. “Especially,” she added, playfully, “if you’re willing to say 'hi' to total strangers.”

Make the first move: Still without plans? Be brave! If someone you’d like to spend time with on a real date, as in a potential romance, hasn’t reached out to you, make the first move. You may get a “sorry, I’m busy” or you may get a delightfully surprising, "thank you. I had no plans and would love to spend time with you.” This night could be very casual — as in serving a take-out supper on trays and eating on a couch near your fireplace. Or go out! Though most New Year’s Eve revelers make plans way in advance, you’re sure to get a seat at a cozy café that’s just right to jumpstart a new relationship — away from the noise and frenzy of a crowd.

Write letters of gratitude: Janice Kaplan, author of the bestselling The Gratitude Diaries, conducted deep scientific and anecdotal research on the effects that gratitude can have on our attitudes. I interviewed Kaplan, the former editor-in-chief of Parade magazine, and she shared with me how expressions of gratitude can even improve symptoms for those suffering from depression or anxiety.

As Kaplan explains, when gratitude is expressed and received the brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that contribute to our feelings of happiness and well-being. So, if you’re solo on New Year’s Eve, boost your spirits by writing a letter (or letters) of thankfulness to people in your life who add to your well-being.

“Write to someone who did something nice for you; recognize a neighbor who always greets you with a smile; a friend who helped you when you were sick, and be specific,” Kaplan suggests. “A gratitude letter is actually a big gift to yourself. It reminds you that there is kindness in the world and you’ll feel good about yourself for passing on that kindness. And think how good you’ll make the recipient feel to get your letter.”

I can’t think of a more positive way to start the New Year than that! So here’s my gratitude letter to you, our readers: Thank you for spending time reading The Ethel. Thank you for letting us tell you our stories, for telling us your stories, for creating a community of older women who know that with age comes wisdom and for sharing that wisdom. Here’s wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, joyous year ahead!

Will you be alone on New Year's Eve? What do you like to do? Let us know in the comments below.

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