I remember the first time that I realized that my happiness and my freedom were two different things. I was writing a post for the She 3.0 Instagram page and naturally wrote the word happiness when I stopped. I felt like I had to ask myself “Do I mean happiness or do I really mean freedom?” All of a sudden, I wasn’t too sure. I couldn’t believe how stuck I was on this question! I couldn’t make a decision. It wasn’t until I looked up the definitions that I realized how different they were.
What Does Happiness Mean?
When I looked up the word happy, I saw three different definitions that really made me think. According to Merriam-Webster*, happy means “favored by luck or fortune” while dictionary.com** defines it as “delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.” Lastly, the Cambridge Dictionary defines happy as “a polite way to express your willingness to do something.” You see what I mean? Perspective and context is everything. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t connate happiness with luck or fortune unless you’re thinking about how rare true happiness really is. I think we can all agree that happiness is something that you have to work at everyday to achieve and keep. That’s why so many people never experience it.
What Does Freedom Mean?
When it comes to the definition of freedom, I liked Wikipedia’s**** definition best. It explains it as “having the ability to act or change without constraint.” Or we can go the Cambridge Dictionary route and say that while happiness is the expression of willingness, freedom is the act of that willingness. As you can see, the two are pretty similar but still not exactly the same. Happiness seems more of a long process to obtain while with freedom, you decide right there and then in that moment that you want to do something.
What Are The Consequences Of Doing What’s Best For You?
They’re both a mindset that can be manifested into the physical world but does that mean that they are mutually exclusive? That part is tricky because no matter what definition a collective of scholars determine a word is, you still have the right to define your life on your own terms. If you follow the She 3.0 Instagram page, you would know that I use the phrase “define your life on your own terms” A LOT and it’s intentional. As women, we are conditioned to live this cookie cutter life based on the societal expectations of who a woman should be.
If you dare go against the grain and say that for example, you don’t want to be a mother or refuse to dress conservatively because you believe what you wear shouldn’t warrant you to be harassed or assaulted or prefer girls over guys, there’s this unspoken assumption or belief that you’re giving up a piece of your freedom to do so. It’s guaranteed that you won’t be looked at the same and will be scrutinized and judged about it probably for as long as you go against the “rules.” People will even go as far as trying to “fix you” because you aren’t woman enough.
Do You Really Have To Pick One Over The Other?
Who says that you can’t have it all? (your definition of all that is). That’s why I think it’s so important to know what each word means to you. After some deep thought, I’ve found the best way to go about this and it’s this- happiness is whatever feels like freedom. For example, if you want to spend your time putting yourself first or choose to travel the world instead of settling down or be single until you find the one who meets your standards or work for yourself instead of your standard 9-5 because that feels like freedom and it’ll make you happy, then you should do that.
Then you have to ask yourself “Do I really have to ask to be accepted to be freely myself? Why isn’t it a natural understanding?” If only it were that simple. You have probably already felt this on a micro level. For example, feeling happy once you end a toxic relationship with a friend, family member or significant other who you thought had good intentions. Someone finally accepts you for who you are and you couldn’t be happier. That was freedom and happiness in one. However, as time passed, they actually aren’t as receptive to you being unapologetically yourself. They started to pick what you do and how you live your life a part. Ultimately, making you feel small instead of encouraging you to take up space. Then your happiness is compromised so you must fight to free yourself again.
How To Make Your Happiness And Freedom A Priority As A Woman
Women are constantly stuck between their happiness and their freedom for two reasons. One is because they don’t want to be selfish and two, they just never had the chance to be. They’ve never really experienced that freedom of making themselves a priority. They’re constantly people pleasing and I think we all know how draining that can be. Because you are juggling so many balls and wearing so many hats, you might feel like you don’t have any freedom at all to be yourself and figure out what YOU want. You are stuck in the endless cycle of compromising your happiness.
I can even go further because as a black woman, my freedom and happiness is always being hung over my head. As Malcolm X said, black women have it the hardest in America. He said that in 1962 and it still reigns true in 2020. Due to slavery, black women never really had our freedom in the first place. Though centuries have passed, we are still feeling the chilling effects of racism the moment we or someone who love leaves home.
How unfair is it to feel happy to bring life into this world while at the same time feeling dread wondering if will be taken if they so happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? How can you be happy when you aren’t free and in constant anxiety? How can you be free when your history is stripped from you and your identity is a threat? I don’t know but I see black women do it time and time again. They are so one of a kind and they give me so much strength.
Life is a journey and you dictate how your journey goes. No matter how little control you think you have, believe me, you have so much more. You create your values. You create your standards. You create your goals. You create who you are. You are that powerful. You might not have realized that until now but just like you have sacrificed a part of yourself to make others happy, it’s time that you sacrifice their happiness for yours. It’s time to free yourself from any other obligation than the one you have with you.
Yes, you may feel guilty at first but your freedom is so worth it. Say this affirmation with me aloud and believe it as you say it: “I deserve to live a life of fulfillment, happiness and freedom. I know the time is now and I will work towards it everyday.” Did it? Good. Felt it? Good. Believed it? Now live it.