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30 April 2020

How to not feel trapped and enjoy the simple things in life

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What a strange set of circumstances we find ourselves in! Not just you and me, but all of us, everyone in the world at the same time.

2020 is a year that changed many of our paradigms about the way we live and function as a society. It is a year that will be forever remembered in human history, we are literally all living through history now. We cannot know for certain what the implications of this pandemic will be for our lives in the future, and with so much uncertainty in the world at the moment, it is easy for us to feel lost and bewildered. Governments across the world have issued one clear message in unison and that is staying at home to help stop the spread of the virus.

However, adjusting to life under lockdown has certainly been challenging for me personally. As a business owner and a parent with two young children, it has been a battle trying to gain control and order as everything around me turned to chaos within a few short weeks. All my plans, all the 2020 projects, my things-to-do list, and my routine schedule all turned upside down and then to top it all the schools shut too. If you are a parent I am sure you can relate to the challenges of suddenly being faced with the task of homeschooling your children and the relentless quest to find them something to eat every twenty minutes! This new life, living and working from home can make us feel trapped, like being prisoners in our own home but it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that this new life can introduce us to skills and capacities within in us that we never knew we had. Our new quarantined life can be a unique and wonderful opportunity to work on ourselves to be the greatest version of ourselves.

What is freedom?

Time to get philosophical, so what exactly is freedom? Freedom is a concept that we cherish very highly in our society, indeed across the span of human history and across cultures, man has fought and died for freedom. Our wars and battles have been in the name of freedom but what does it mean to live a free life on an individual level? Before the coronavirus were we free as a society? We were free to go to restaurants, travel wherever we want, there were no restrictions on our movements and yet many of us still felt trapped in our lives. Up until this lockdown, we have enjoyed a great amount of freedom and choice yet as a society we have been increasingly struggling to keep our depression and anxiety under control.

“One must be shackled to be free”

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the idea here is that to be truly free, there must be rules set in place.  In other words, if there are no rules and regulations for a group of people, 'freedom' no longer has meaning because anything and everything is allowed. Doing whatever we want, having an unlimited choice is not freedom in its truest sense and in fact can be a cause of our misery and mental unrest.

Can a limited choice be good for you?

Life under lockdown is limited. We have restrictions placed on what we can do and where we can go, many supermarkets limit the amount of products we can buy as well as cutting down on the choices and variety of products on offer, but can this actually be a good thing for us? American psychologist and Author of The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz sets out a convincing argument that challenges the idea that the more choice we have, the happier we are. Schwartz describes the situation in his local supermarket in which he has 285 varieties of cookies, 175 varieties of salad dressings, 40 varieties of toothpastes and 230 varieties of soup to choose from. The official dogma that is deeply embedded within our society is that maximising our choice, gives us more freedom and therefore is good for our ultimate welfare.

However, Schwartz argues that this explosion of choice which we have in every aspect of our life, our careers, technology, marriage and family life, travel, etc is actually detrimental to our mental wellbeing for two reasons. One is that unlimited choice leads to paralysis rather than liberation - in other words having too many choices actually means that often we end up not making any! We can be overwhelmed with our options.  Secondly, with unlimited choices, we end up feeling less satisfied with the choice that we end up making, because we compare it to other choices that we could have made, thinking the grass is always greener. With all the increased choices our expectations go up and invariably we find ourselves less satisfied by regretting the choices we have made, as Schwartz humorously points out “Everything was better when everything was worse!”

Back to basics, back to simplicity

This pandemic has forced us all to go back to basics and to return to simplicity and it could be a very positive thing for us. When we don’t have unlimited choices, when we don’t have the freedom to do and go wherever we want, we are not trapped. Rather we have a unique opportunity to discover a new definition of freedom. The freedom that comes from simple living and high thinking. This virus has taught us that nature has rules that our freedom doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want to the planet and our environment without paying the price. I believe we can emerge from this crisis much more conscious about the everyday small things in our lives that we had previously taken for granted.

In my family, we are now so much more conscious about the way we shop and the way we eat. When a trip to the local supermarket becomes a mission for supplies accompanied by the potential risk of catching or passing on the coronavirus, you think about what you want to buy and at mealtimes you make sure you don’t waste any of your food! Our behaviours and habits are being modified by this pandemic. Personally, I have found that I am enjoying the simple things in life more, waking up every morning alive and healthy, being around my children, my garden and countless other “little” things that are actually really big important things in life, real sources of happiness and satisfaction. I feel that I understand a little bit better that less is actually more!

One of my favourite poems goes like this…                                                                                                          

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,

A cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,

This is the best season of your life.

In our previous world, before the pandemic, perhaps our minds were clouded with many unnecessary things, things that we may be felt were important but when faced with so much tragic loss of life, you realise that life itself is the most precious thing. To appreciate every moment of life, to be conscious, to be mindful, and to be happy in the now.

So how not to feel trapped and enjoy the simple things in life?

  1. Change your definition of freedom to mean an inner sense of freedom that can only be attained when we have limitations.
  2. Keep a journal and daily write all the things that you are grateful for that day. I would recommend doing this exercise at night as it promotes a good night’s sleep.
  3. Practice being more mindful in your day, as you carry out the simple everyday tasks of cooking, cleaning, your work etc, bring your mind’s attention and focus fully on the task at hand.
  4. Appreciate every breath, every heartbeat, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.

Stronger happier people

We have had it pretty good, most of us probably have not experienced war or famine or major disasters of any sort. Most of us probably have always had access to clean running water and our fridge has always been full of food. Our problems have always been first world problems.

I believe the Coronavirus is the challenge that can make us stronger as people and more grateful for the things we have in life that perhaps previously we took for granted. We will get through this and it is only a matter of time before we venture out of our homes and rediscover the world again and hopefully also reassess our relationship with it. Now is the time to discover the world inside you, who you are, and who you want to be. Life under lockdown is not a trap, it is an opportunity to learn how to become happy and grateful for the simple things in life.

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Hiten Bhatt

Hiten is an international speaker, award-winning author, transformation coach and CEO of The Leadership Adventure.

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