Personal freedom = personal happiness which makes TOTAL sense to me when I’m hiding in the bathroom hoping the little person here doesn’t come pounding on the door.
In that moment, I don’t feel all that free, nor do I feel all that happy.
Researcher Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester says our happiness is due in part to having the freedom to decide what to do and when we’ll do it, without a lot of door-pounders.
With this kind of freedom, we feel more confident, capable and in-charge, and we also have a greater sense of well-being, he says. It isn’t bad for our relationships either, because often when we feel like we have more free time, we tend to spend it with the people we love.
Still, most of us feel trapped by the daily schedule. We say “yes” to much. Do things we SHOULD do rather than the things we want to do and get sucked into the daily demands. Little things like oh, work schedules that requires to be in a 9 a.m., and feeding the children and doing laundry — AGAIN — can put a damper on our sense of freedom.
Yet, even with a 9 to 5 there are always pockets, like lunch breaks, evening hours, and weekends where we can decide how to spend our time and reclaim some of the good feelings that come with our sense of independence.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Do what you must, then do what you love, then do nothing more. So many days we do the essentials — and everything else. You don’t really need make dinner, do the dishes, and create handcrafted wrapping paper for the 23 birthday parties your child is invited to this summer – unless it gives you great pleasure. If you love making wrapping paper, then do it. When we spend time on the things we enjoy, it fills us up and gives us a sense of freedom. Otherwise, buy the gift bag and eat on paper plates once in awhile so you have an hour to spend on a family hike, or playing the ukulele, or doing nothing at all. It’s a great practice to leave the empty space empty and see what emerges.
2. Leave one weekend a month unscheduled. This means saying “no” sometimes. It means declaring a day as sacred, open time. Don’t make plans. Don’t make any decisions until you wake up that morning and see what you feel like and what the day holds and then do what feels good to you Do, however, spend time talking about your unscheduled Saturday as it approaches. By anticipating the free day you will heighten the happy feelings. Be patient with yourself, it may be hard not to fill the day up with barbecues and cupboard cleaning. But, you’ll get in the habit of it. And it feels freeing.
3. Say “yes” to the things that align with your values, “no” to the others. It’s hard doing to-do list triage on the daily schedule. Often, though, we end up doing things that don’t even align with the things we care about most. This is when our happiness takes a hit. If family is one of your highest values, but you spend most of your days cleaning house or at work then you’ll feel drained, and possibly depressed, at the end of the day. If health is a high value, but you eat take-out and sit at a desk most days instead of working out, your life satisfaction is bound to drop. Take a close look at how you are spending your days and identify those activities that match your personal values and those that don’t. Then stay as close as you can to what matters.
If your job right now does not fit your values, then build in an activity and passion that does – go for that walk on your lunch break, or meditate for 10 minutes, to read that book you are captivated by. Deliberately choose to spend your time on the things that you value and you’ll feel more autonomous.
4. Create some unscheduled time every day. This is a biggie and so hard to do when you are working and parenting, but, if you make it happen, you’ll feel better and get more done in the long run. When I get my daughter to bed, I know I get an hour to myself. I rarely plan that time. Sometimes I’ll go to bed early, or finish a work project or watch a basketball game or read. But, knowing I have a bit of time that I don’t have to coordinate or schedule helps me feel better during the rest of the day. It also quells the feeling of overwhelm. If you can’t carve out time in your day, schedule it. Plan a date night – alone. Get it on the calendar so the kids are accounted for and all the must-dos are met, but then wait until the time arrives before deciding what to do. Then do what the things that align with your values and desires.
You are free. You do get to decide how to spend your time and while there are many meaningful things that we must do — family responsibilities and career demands– how we spend the moments in between will determine how much joy and well-being we experience.
This post first appeared here in 2014.