This Thanksgiving weekend I’m reflecting on how fortunate I am. Through most of the year I also realize that I’m not as grateful as I should be for my many blessings. I believe that many of us fail this “gratefulness test” whether we believe those blessings to have occurred due to personal efforts or bestowed by divine providence.
I’ve been thinking about how gratefulness and happiness are often tied together. I’ve read several newspaper articles attempting to identify what makes us each of us happy. Is it money? Prestige? Family? A combination?
Dan Sullivan, the founder of the Strategic Coach program, suggests that what makes most of us happy – and therefore grateful for our happiness – boils down to four personal freedoms. They include the freedoms of money, time, relationships and purpose. And each freedom is two-fold. The first part of each freedom is the freedom “to” and the second part is the freedom “from.”
Most of us would agree that while money doesn’t buy happiness, having the freedom to spend our resources on those things we find most enjoyable makes life easier.
Freedom of time is probably as important (or more so) than any other freedom that Sullivan identifies. Any working stiff will tell you that he looks forward to the day when he has the freedom from sitting at his desk weekdays from 9-5. At the same time, don’t most of us want to have the freedom to spend our time as we choose? Those that have the greatest amount of free time also have the greatest ability to maximize the use of the other three freedoms.
Freedom to have relationships with those whom we cherish the most leads to a satisfying and happy life as well. Each of us may have several different aspects of this freedom. At the office we hope to have the freedom to work with those who we find energizing, supportive, valuable and engaging. We also hope to have the freedom from work relationships that are confrontational, ineffective and unproductive. It puzzles me, for instance, when those who have the ability to make changes to a toxic workplace environment fail to do so. It’s usually best for all parties to move on to another relationship.
Relationship will also encompass our family and close friends. We all hope to have satisfying relationships with our spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and with our friends. The freedom from relationships that don’t work is equally as important to our happiness. In order to have these relationships, we often need elements of the other two (money and time) so that we can spend the time to visit with and often travel to those we value.
Finally, there is the freedom of purpose. Each of us wants to believe that our lives matter. For some of us, the freedom of purpose means to have successfully raised a family. To others it means to have created a business or engaged in a profession that enriched the lives or helped others. Some wish to be a mainstay of their community through political or charitable causes.
About ten years ago I completed an exercise that was particularly helpful in identifying what is most important to me. In this exercise I was told to assume that I had only one year to live, and that I would remain reasonably healthy throughout that year. What would I do? Where would I go? Who would I want to see?
I wrote down my thoughts. When I finished the moderator asked me an important question. “If these things you wrote down – things that you would do knowing that you have a limited amount of time on this earth are important to you – how many of them are you doing now?”
“Not many.” I answered.
“Why not? Why aren’t you doing them now?” He asked.
“Because I don’t have the time, money, etc.” I answered.
“You may not have all of the time and money to do all of them now, ‘ he said, “but you certainly have the time and resources to do some of them this year don’t you?”
“And next year? Can’t you knock some of them out next year too?”
“Assuming that you are not going to die in a year, what is preventing you from doing these things most important to you right now?”
The bottom line of the exercise is that we all have a limited amount of time in this world. Most of us have enough of the four freedoms to accomplish those things most important to us as well. I certainly do. For which I am grateful.
And I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.
©2013 Craig R. Hersch