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]