How To Be A Happy Freelancer

Self-employment doesn't have to mean depression, if you take charge of your time and your outlook.

Recently I wrote about all the reasons that freelancing can be dangerous for your mental health. Now, let's look at the other side: four ways to be a happier freelancer. Ultimately, despite the downsides, job satisfaction is very strongly associated with mental health, and self-employment has often been associated with higher job satisfaction. So if freelancing is a good fit for you and your chosen career, it will probably tend to make you happier as well, especially if you follow these steps:

1. Draw strong lines between work and home.
This is probably the hardest and also the most important step that freelancers can take to safeguard their mental health. What is technically called "work-home interference" has been shown to lead to a "spiral" of emotional exhaustion that negatively affects both sides, the work and the home.

Recently the announcement by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer that employees would no longer be allowed to work from home has reignited the debate over flexible work arrangements. But anything you can do to keep regular hours and places for work will help with the interference problem. Have you considered working from a coworking space, a cafe, or a park bench?

2. Be free.
Researchers agree that psychologically, the way that self-employment contributes to higher job satisfaction is through greater autonomy, freedom, and independence. In the words of one study, which surveyed evidence on the self-employed in 23 countries, happiness can come from "the value of doing what you like." But in order to make this work for you, you have to exercise that right. Which of the projects you are working on right now are the ones you would do even if you weren't getting paid? Is it possible to shift toward spending more time on those? On the flip side of autonomy, when was the last time you left work early to have lunch with a friend or go to the movies?

3. Be social.
Conferences, barcamps, panels, happy hours, meet ups, Tweetups, book clubs, MOOCs--there is no shortage of ways to connect meaningfully with people in your field, feed your curiosity and to give back by mentoring newcomers. Social networks help "buffer stress." Helping others is good for mental health. And making connections with people will expose you to new ideas, which makes your work more interesting, which is a key dimension of job and life satisfaction.

4. Provide your own health care.
Of course you should purchase a health insurance plan to get care if you need it. But providing your own health care also means exercising, eating right, sleeping enough, and all of the other basics of the mind-body connection. And it can save you money, too.

[Image: Flickr user Daveybot]

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • Timc

    #2 is my favorite (boom tish!). I've been self employed for 8 years and still tend to work 9-5 and feel guilty if I bunk off and go to the beach for the afternoon. Then I remind myself that this is why I'm self-employed, to have the flexibility and autonomy. There has to be some benefit to balance the downside of uncertainty and cashflow dramas. So I'm getting better at dropping the tools and having fun, without having to rationalise it in my mind

  • Ralph Bagnall

    Interesting article.I freelance mostly from home. The separation of work/home is difficult to define for me. I enjoy what I do. My 'work' and my 'play' are so closely related that it is often impossible to define which I am doing since I make money at both.

    It IS very important to maintain schedules. You must have enough self discipline to work when needed, and to work ON what is needed. I rise at 5:40 every morning with my wife, and am at my desk or in my shop (I am a woodworking author and consultant) at 7 AM to start my day. The TV is never on except during lunch, and I work at least until 4 PM but often later.

    The good news is that my Saturdays and my Mondays are nearly indistinguishable, and I do allow myself the freedom of a flexible schedule sothat I can attend school events with my kids or meet associates for lunch provided the goals still get met.

    Ralph Bagnall
    Consultingwoodworker.cm