This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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I was talking over the importance of mental well-being for freelancers with a fellow writer.

These dark days of autumn rapidly turning into even darker days of winter can be especially trying for those of us who work on our own. It is easy to fall prey to negative thoughts and allow ourselves to be put into in a less than optimal mind set for daily tasks ahead.

Of course, anyone can develop bad psychological attitudes, but for creative workers the potential predisposition seems greater.

And so my colleague brought up the concept of gratitude.

It seems many self-help gurus posit that a sense of gratitude is important for optimal mental health. It can help achieve balance and perspective.

This makes perfect sense to me.

Once upon a time, in my salad days as a freelancer, I used to feel envious of and occasional bitterness towards some colleagues who appeared to be achieving success they didn’t deserve (IMHO) while at the same time I was not (again, IMHO).

Envy can be a great catalyst for creative expression. Many times I’ve read or seen something that I knew I could do better and was whipped into a frenzy of activity to attempt it.

But when those feelings turn bitter, the poison can spread. The damage can impair your work output, discolour relationships and reduce your world outlook to a very negative one.

I discovered the beneficial qualities of gratitude by accident.

I was in the shower one morning, working myself up into my daily froth over some imagined professional injustice or another when I realized how bored I was of feeling so badly. It was wasting time and energy and it wasn’t helping me move forward. And so my mind wandered to some of the good people and good things in my life that I had been taking for granted.

Almost immediately I felt a release of tension in my neck, shoulders and stomach.

From that day forward I used my morning shower to review how grateful I was for some of the good things and good people in my life. I would no longer take them for granted. I hardly ever felt bitter again. And when I was envious it was no longer all-consuming. It came with a more balanced perspective allowing me to appreciate another’s work without denigrating my own.

By wasting less time on the negative, I freed up an untapped pool of energy for creative activity.

Looking back I must have been wasting a third of all my available time and energy – possibly more.

Additionally, I found gratitude manifests a sense of connectedness. When I think of some of the good people and good things in my life and feel gratitude for them – with its inherent desire to put back into the world more good than received – I feel a connection to them and to the world frequently otherwise absent working so much alone at home. It is a deeply satisfying psychological phenomenon which I cannot explain but for which I am – surprise! – also grateful.

In summary: I advocate including gratitude as part of a daily good-mental health regimen.

It’s a great way to start the day and with which to strive for creative excellence.

But it can also be the beginning of so much more.

A writer’s gratitude

As a writer I always thought I held sufficient gratitude for living in a country which values and protects freedom of expression, of thought, of action and of association. But in reality I had taken it for granted for far too long which meant I wasn’t feeling proper gratitude at all.

I had to confront it recently when I spoke with a young refugee.

As a teenager she knew she was in trouble. An atheist, she did not share her family’s beliefs. She wanted to work, to travel, to have friends and lovers. She wished to be free. But she knew to express any of these thoughts would mean death in her country where such views would never be tolerated.

So she planned escape. It took her years of precariously living a lie. Eventually she became covertly computer-savvy. Forging documents to flee, taking nothing more than the clothes on her back, she finally arrived in Canada after a perilous and uncertain journey. Here she was accepted as a refugee whose life was deemed at risk should she ever return to her homeland.

Her family utterly disowned her. Her parents destroyed all evidence she ever existed. Her siblings first threatened her and now shun her on social media.

She had given up everything to be here. Family. Friends. Home.

So is she bitter, angry, self-pitying?

Not at all. In fact, I have never met a more positive, more energized, more focused individual.

She has a job, a place to live, new friends and plans to go back to school.

She claims to hold no bitterness, no hatred, and no animosity for her homeland or family.

What she holds is gratitude. Gratitude to Canada and our willingness to take a chance on her and to grant her the freedoms with which to live her life as she had always dreamed. And a profound gratitude that such freedoms exist here in the first place.

It has given her incredible balance and perspective. I have no doubt she will make Canada a better place for all she touches.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt so inspired by an individual or felt such passionate gratitude from another for this country. Meeting her suddenly made world headlines very real and very human for me. Whatever problems I have to face today pale into insignificance when I think of her story.

The gratitude she feels and that I now feel having met her have been a wakeup call. It has forcefully reminded me not to take for granted those freedoms she risked her life to reach here in Canada. We must constantly work to preserve them here at home and to promote them whenever possible abroad.

My renewed gratitude for them makes me appreciate today more than ever that they must be fought for, argued over and/or exercised by as many of us every day as can wield a keyboard, a microphone, or a camera.

It’s compelled me to write this post.

The takeaway 

If you value freedom of the press you could show your gratitude in many tangible ways. Consider donating to an organization like Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Quoting their website, www.cjfe.org, the CJFE is dedicated to achieving “universal respect for and protection of the right to free expression and the access to information”.

A sense of gratitude can be a positive force for optimal mental health. But it can also be channeled into constructive action with which to enrich the world.

Indeed, it can be the beginning of so much more.

Disclaimer: The author has no affiliation with CJFE.

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