Happiness & Freedom
I believe freedom is another face of happiness; if you’re not free to live the life you’ve dreamed and express your authenticity, you’ll likely be unhappy. Being yourself should be the most simple act, yet for many it’s an utter challenge. When your job, children and dirty dishes all need attention, it seems there’s little time for you, and freedom can feel far away. Also, much of society asks you to be something other than who you are, and tells you that to be yourself isn’t enough.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Finding freedom is a true gift, it means your basic needs are met — you have a safe place to sleep and food on your table — and you have the luxury of following your dreams and expressing who you are.
I see freedom in two ways: freedom from and freedom to. Neither one is better than the other, they’re just different points on the road to happiness. I’ve separated the following tips into these two categories, but the reality is we often move back and forth between them. Likewise, these suggestions can be applied at any time no matter where you are on your journey.
‘Freedom from’ is often the first step on the spiritual path, as getting out of pain is one of the greatest motivators. It includes alleviating things like anxiety, pain, fear and suffering.
Below are a few tools in the ‘freedom from’ category to help you release your past and move forward into happiness and freedom.
Take Time to Heal
Healing requires the courage and patience to feel all the hurt, anger, sadness and grief you’ve endured. By honoring, not ignoring or downplaying, those feelings, you move through them. Through healing, you learn more about yourself and your own needs, rather than pleasing others, seeking approval or simply trying to survive.
When every last tear has been cried there will be space in your heart for what you’ve always dreamed. This will feel much more like freedom and will point you towards happiness.
Freedom’s Just Another Word For…
When you have nothing to lose, as Janis Joplin once sang, it’s much easier to feel free. If you aren’t bound to anything, then no chains will enslave you. I have several friends who’ve taken this to an extreme and can’t have an intimate relationship to save their lives, that’s not what I’m talking about.
“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.”
— Dalai Lama
You’ve got to let go of attachment: attachment to outcomes, attachment to people and to possessions. People will come and go. Emotions will rise and fall. The best thing you can do is accept the moment for what it is. You may not like what’s happening in it or maybe you will. Either way there is a freedom in accepting what’s beyond your control.
Non-clinging, as the yogis call it, isn’t a one-time action, it’s something you must do repeatedly. Keep up your mindfulness practices and do your best to live in the now.
Build Healthy Boundaries
Letting go of attachment and control are two good practices to be open to the moment and create a sense of spacious freedom. But, if we’re too open it’s easy to become a door mat. You need to develop healthy boundaries. Say yes to the moment, then explore the best way to align yourself in it. Sometimes, the best alignment is to say, “No.” Its much easier, even if it’s uncomfortable in the moment‚ to say “No” up front. When you say “Yes” and don’t mean it you suffer the consequences of re-negging on your commitment or being miserable because you didn’t say “no” when you meant it.
Mind Your P’s and Q’s
What you think becomes what you speak. What you speak becomes what you create. Every thought, word and action becomes the fabric of reality, so watch what you think and say. This tip definitely works for both ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to,’ so I suggest to use it often.
One easy way to alter your reality is to stop complaining. Complaining is a form of resistance to what’s happening in the moment. Much of what happens in the moment is beyond your control and can’t be changed, like the weather. Complaining is a waste of energy and puts you in a negative sate of mind.
‘Freedom to’ is about expansion and boundlessness. Instead of being motivated to get out of suffering, you’re motivated to live happily and to expand into sharing your life and your gifts with others. With the past behind you, your authenticity and confidence grow stronger and you begin to make choices that come from a deep alignment with who you are.
Sometimes you may find yourself back in ‘freedom from’ mode, perhaps when an old hot-button gets triggered, but, generally, you stop living out of a contracted, survival mode and take a giant step into a life of happiness. These tools help in the ongoing process of living mindfully and making smart choices to that end, or should I say beginning!
Choose Happiness Over Pleasure
Pleasure is instant gratification. It’s doing something without thought of repercussion, like eating the whole cake instead of a slice. I recently ate at least 8 small, but rich, pieces of dessert at a party. I knew better, but it tasted so damn good. That was a dead giveaway, that I was choosing pleasure over happiness; I knew better. I was up half the night feeling sick to my stomach afterwards and I was definitely not happy.
An example of choosing happiness over pleasure would be resisting the urge to buy a coffee now to save that $5 for your child’s college fund. You know it’s the right thing to do. Happiness and self-expression come naturally when you listen to that.
My biggest problem here is clutter. I know I’m not the only one. I get lazy and don’t feel like cleaning up. But that mess just waits for me and it sits in the back of my mind. It adds to the ‘to do’ list and definitely keeps me from feeling free.
More stuff usually equals more responsibility. More to clean, more to organize, more to pay for, more to worry about keeping safe. Often, buying stuff and keeping stuff (or not putting it away, in my case) is a way to pad yourself from feeling uncomfortable. If you aren’t happy with yourself, do you really think buying more things will make you happy?
I’m not suggesting you become a renunciate. But I do know that as a spiritual warrior, what matters to you is being with the people you love, not accumulating more things. Just check yourself the next time you go shopping. Do you really need that shirt in both colors?
Know Where You’re Headed
Periodically take the time to point your ship towards your personal north star. You may be a goal setter. If, like me, you’re not, you can, instead, imagine what you’d feel like or what it would look like to live with the utter freedom to express your self and live the dreams that only you have.
Making a record of your vision/goals is really good way to clarify them and see if you are on track. I like creating a dream journal rather than a dream board. I use a hard back, large sized sketch book and glue my images into it in different sections, like, relationship, career, wellness, travel, etc. Leave lots of empty pages between sections so you can grow your vision over time. Check back with your journal now and then and see if you need to make slight adjustments to go in the direction of your dreams. Write, “Thank you” on things that have already happened and add more images and words to refine your vision.
Boundaries, Take Two
Without boundaries you can’t really feel that free. If you can just do whatever you want all the time then there’s nothing to differentiate your moments of freedom. If you were perpetually on vacation, for instance, then a vacation might just be a change of scenery, not the sense of freedom that comes from a vacation from work. Set goals and structure to your work, then stick to them.
A boundary can also be a perceived limitation. It’s something you have to push up against, both to know yourself better and to truly grow. If you don’t try things that challenge you, there is no chance for growth. The successes that come from overcoming obstacles and perceived boundaries leave us feeling a radical sense of joy and freedom.