"The last couple of years have been about defining life on my own terms," the singer, 24, tells PEOPLE in this week's 40th Anniversary issue.
The superstar, whose evolving style previously nabbed her the top spot on PEOPLE's Best Dressed list, pays homage to the magazine's history on this week's cover with a pose that echoes Mia Farrow's iconic Great Gatsby look from the inaugural issue in 1974.
"Being on my own, prioritizing my girlfriends, my family and my music above everything else and trying things I never thought I'd try," Swift says of the personal changes she has made. "It's really been a liberating and freeing time."
In a candid interview during a London stop on the press tour for her new album 1989 (pre-order it now here), the Grammy winner opens up about replacing headlines about boyfriends and breakups with a new focus on her chart-topping career – including her smash single, "Shake It Off."
"I made the decision to spend time on my own and figure out who I am," she says of embracing the single life.
"When you take the other person out of the scenario and you're walking through life on your own, you end up figuring out what you actually like without anyone else's input."
With her cats Meredith and Olivia Benson – and an inner circle of ambitious, multi-talented friends that includes Girls star and author Lena Dunham, singer Lorde and actress Jaime King – she's in no rush to find a guy.
"I'm not too worried about whether I meet someone," she says. "I'm going to be happy either way."
For much more from Swift, pick up this week's special 40th Anniversary issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. And flip the magazine over for even more from your favorite stars, including life lessons from Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston and First Lady Michelle Obama.