There’s an old joke that goes something like this: a Buddhist monk orders a hot dog from a vendor and gives him a ten dollar bill, but receives no change. When asked, the vendor responds, “But, change comes from within.”
Most of the articles I’ve written on the freelance revolution are business focused, or focused on the professional success of freelancers and the organizations that depend on them. But, as we reach the end of a year – a good year for the freelance revolution – minds turn inward and on more basic issues: friends, family and whether we are living the life we had hoped.
A wonderful series of articles in the NY Times by Tara Parker Pope, the editor of Well magazine offers excellent guidance on how to live a happier life. For your reading pleasure as we close 2019, and hoping that you’ll find a thought that helps you bring more happiness into your life as a freelancer, here’s a brief summary. The entire series is by Ms. Parker Pope is worth a read:
Conquer Negative Thinking
Our focus on bad experiences is evolutionarily helpful (learning to avoid dangerous situations or respond quickly to crisis) but also problematic: most of us tend to obsess. Here’s what the experts suggest:
· Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. When in a negative space, acknowledge it, but Treat yourself like a friend. Ask yourself what advice would you give a friend and try to apply that advice to you. Also,
· Challenge your negative thoughts e.g., what’s a more productive way to think about the situation?
Rewrite Your Story
Can we change the way we’re thinking about or framing our problems? One approach is to keep a journal – think of it as a chronicle of the challenges you’ve overcome in past, and a source of solutions to those coming up. Or take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story in a more helpful way, e.g, how can I use what I’ve learned overcoming similar challenges in past. Parker Pope quotes James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at UT, describing the research on expressive writing this way: “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
Don’t Just Stand There, Move
Busy and active people are happier than couch potatoes. So, instead of ruminating on that problem, take a walk, go for a run, or clean up the work space you’ve promised you would for the past week. It turns out that decluttering adds spring to your step; thank you Marie Kondo. Sometimes small accomplishments are all you need.
When you are feeling down, optimism is the best solution but it’s not easy. Some people seem to naturally be optimistic; for the rest of us, it means forcing yourself to see the good in the difficult, the fortunate in the problematic. Optimism acknowledges the challenge, but believes things can turn out right. Oh, and the practice of optimism is a lot easier if you are hanging around with optimists.
Go to your Happy Place
For some people their happy place is a run. For others, it’s the golf course. For me, its anytime, anywhere with my grandsons, or in summer my vegetable garden. When happiness seems least attainable, go to your’s. Not surprisingly, spending time in nature improves most moods as does sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder is real.
Get Some Sleep
Many people who study and write about happiness encourage people to focus on life in the bedroom. Moving past the obvious value of a happy sex life, it turns out that sleep is critical to happiness. People who feel rested most of the time are happier than people who don’t.
Spend Time With Happy People
This is an extension of the value of time with optimists. Time with happy people is generally contagious. A Yale study points out that people’s happiness is strongly influenced by the happiness of others with whom they are connected and that People who are surrounded by many happy people are more likely to be happy in the future.
Pets Make Us Happy
Psychologists found that pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners. Moreover, those emotionally closer to pets also tended to be closer to the people in their lives.
Its Harder to Be Happy Alone
A strong social group is good for overall happiness. But if you are not with a partner, or don’t have a happy relationship, you can still improve your happiness by nurturing your friendships and social connections.
Find Purpose at Work
My older son, as a child, asked how long we work as adults, so we counted up the minutes: approximately 5,000,000. So, work matters in finding happiness. We can’t all find our ideal job, but we can find joy in the job sufficient to feel good about what we do. Even the most mundane work feeds our families, put roofs over our heads and engages us with others.
One powerful example shared in the Times article: “Wharton professor Adam Grant arranged for a student to tell scholarship call-center solicitors about the impact his scholarship made to his life. After the talk, the phone solicitors hired to raise money for the school’s scholarship fund raised almost double the money as they had before. The work and pay hadn’t changed, but their sense of purpose had.
Generosity makes people happier. In fact, studies show that people who behaved generously were happier than those who made selfish decisions. In fact, the author points out that just thinking about being generous makes us feel better about ourselves. For example, researchers found that volunteering was associated with less depression, more life satisfaction and greater well-being.
Give Yourself a Break
A new area of psychological research is called self-compassion and asks how kindly people view themselves. People who are supportive and understanding to others, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, guilting themselves for perceived failures.
So, if you are a hard charging, ambitious freelancer, you may be excessively tough on yourself. Give yourself a break: People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. But remember, it takes practice to be nice to yourself.
One More. In addition to the wonderful list provided by Parker Pope, here’s one of mine:
When the writer Salman Rushdie was asked to describe the most important human quality, he said “kindness”. The research agrees that kindness to others brings us happiness. So do something kind. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in way too long. Cheer up patients in a hospital. Help an elderly person cross a busy street. Forward an article to someone who might find it helpful. Small things but big payoff.
Happy 2020 and Viva La Revolution!