4 Simple Ways to Experience Great Happiness and True Freedom

“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”  ~E.E. Cummings

I love to write. For years I wrote in journals and kept them stacked in piles on my shelves.

One rainy winter evening when I was 25, I walked into the Bourgeois Pig bookshop on Franklin Boulevard in Los Angeles and saw a book next to the cash register written by Natalie Goldberg called Wild Mind. I bought it and my life change forever.

Natalie’s book was about writing practice. A Zen monk practitioner, she brings the fundamentals of Zen to the creative writing process. There were some simple rules she suggested. Some of them are:

  • Set a timer and write without stopping your pen—without crossing out or editing. Follow your mind without interruption and see where it leads you.
  • Be specific. Not tree, but cypress. Not a street, but Utica Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not a fruit, but a ripe slice of juicy pineapple.
  • Go for the jugular—toward what might scare you. Meet your insides. Dive all the way in.

Writing in personal journals was my sacred time just for myself, to have permission to go wild, reach my depths, and be truly free.

As fate would have it, I ended up taking a workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico and we become friends. At a time of major transition in my life she invited to move to New Mexico and immerse myself in a writing life with her.

Looking back at the many journals I collected, I see the writing met me for that moment in time, but that once it came out of me onto the paper, it was no longer a part of “me.”

It came through me but was not of me. It was an expression that had passed no longer fitting the current moment.

Although the writings still hold energy, the person who wrote them seems unfamiliar. That Lynn is gone, in the past, over.

If you write in journals and go back to re-read them are you surprised, perhaps interested, sometimes astonished by the person who wrote them?

Discovering who we are is an ever-evolving process, always changing, expanding, and growing.

We may think we have arrived, we think we can say that we know who we are now, and then in a snap of the fingers that moment is gone and something new arises—a new insight, a new awareness, a new interest or endeavor.

This is why we humans are a creative process. And why perceiving ourselves as a process can bring great happiness and true freedom.

Giving myself permission to just write without trying to be something, become something, make something out of it that defines me gives me incredible freedom.

Letting go of the need to be labeled by a “noun,” I become more interested in the “verb.” For example, I am not a writer. I write. Now, I am free.

Then, I have permission to revel in every moment my words move across the page for absolutely no reason except for the great happiness I receive from it.

Here are 4 simple rules to experience great happiness and true freedom:

1. Be interested in who you are not.

Part of being truly happy and free is being interested in the mystery of all that we are not.

Becoming clearer about who we are not allows us to de-layer, empty, and let go of the conditioning that doesn’t serve us. We come closer to touching our true essence, our absolute nature.

I’ve discovered pieces of who I am not at various stages of my life.

Like when I had spiritual experiences and labeled myself a “spiritual person,” only to discover I cared a great deal more about what it means to be my best as a human.

Or when I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to feel like I had “arrived,” yet overlooked the benefits of lifelong learning.

Or when I published my first book, sent it out into the world, and realized the many years I committed to it were over. Almost the next day after my book release, I felt the call to explore something new and write my next book on an almost entirely different subject.

It’s about having a shift in perception and letting go of what we thought we were but no longer are.

Even though you may not have a direct answer when you contemplate who you are not, it’s still worthy. It may encourage you to keep being interested in the exploration of you, to investigate the mystery of yourself, to hear your greater call and listen.

2. Don’t take things too seriously.

Real happiness and freedom come when we remind ourselves to lighten up, to not take our reactions, feelings, desires, or thoughts that feel important so seriously.

Try this: Don’t believe me. Don’t believe anyone else. Don’t believe yourself.

Try not to hold onto your present experience for dear life, because it will change. I try to observe when I use my present experience to build myself up, or manipulate it to show me in a certain light, or try to make something more out of it than it is.

Every once in a while, laugh a little at yourself, at the funny workings of your mind, how silly they can become when you take things oh-too-seriously, and keep a sense of humor.

3. Be true to yourself.

On average, Americans have approximately 3–5 careers a lifetime. Why is this so?

Because we are constantly evolving, constantly changing, constantly learning more about ourselves. We wear a hat, try it on, get a degree, a promotion, commit years, weeks and hours and then realize there is something else we want that feels more in alignment with who we really are.

Somewhere, somehow we were taught that life shouldn’t change, that no one really changes, that we are the same person now that we were as an infant. And in some sense this is true.

We came into this world without any of the conditioning we developed in the years to follow. We were pure—brought into this world with a certain DNA that had a purpose and the trick is to discover it.

The more we are true to ourselves, the closer we are to happiness and freedom.

4. Have the courage to live life fully.

What if you lived life fully? Engaged your dreams fully? Didn’t cheat it and just went for it?

What if you kept finding your edge? Stopped playing it safe and stretched a step beyond your comfort zone?

What if it didn’t matter what will happen later because you know that it will change?

And this is where I get a little heavy, but only for a moment for this too will change. As humans we know our lives will eventually end. Whatever comes into being will go out of being. Nothing in life is permanent. What we think we have will go away.

So, with this in mind, dive in to this thing called life. Live freely and creatively. Reach for the stars and meet your dreams. Since everything is changing anyway, we truly have nothing to lose.

Photo by The Green Party

About Lynn Newman

Lynn Newman has a Masters in Counseling Psychology, is a writer, painter, and game creator (like The Game of You & The Game of Insight – An Interactive Way To Know Yourself, Create The Life You Want). She’s big into unleashing the truest, free-est parts of you, to experience more joy, purpose, and passion in life. Visit her at

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  • Natalie Goldberg is the reason — though it took many years — that I found myself interested in Buddhism. Her books were some of my best friends in college. How wonderful to get to work with her!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Yes! Natalie was transformative in my life – when I moved to New Mexico she taught me how to walk through the desert in more ways than one. Are you still doing writing practice?

  • Krystle

    Thank you for this, Lynn – the perfect words to start my day’s adventure. Thank you for the reminder that I am a work-in-progress, and the journey should be wild!

  • I needed this today! And I’m glad to hear your life changed at 25…I’m feeling one coming on (I’m 24) and was feeling a bit behind the times! 

  • Lynn

    Superb! Enjoy the day:) xoxo lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    for me a big transition at 25 and again at 30 and again at 42… the wheel keeps in turning!!! you are never behind:) xoxoxo lynn

  • Jude

    This came at a perfect time! Thank you! I am in a major life transition (again, at 38!) and really needed to hear all of this! I have been struggling recently with taking things too seriously and worrying about what is next. Thank you also for the reminder that I can write, just to write, and that I don’t have to declare myself as a writer in order to do so! I have been afraid to beginning my blog, as if in starting it I am somehow stating that I know what I’m doing/what I’m talking about…which I don’t. I just like the experience of writing, and sharing and I need to stop being so afraid of putting myself out there. 🙂 

  • Jude

    *of beginning my blog 😉 

  • Melissa

    This is great advice, Lynn. Thanks for sharing yourself. 

  • Lynnzavaro

    You bet! thank YOU!

  • Lynnzavaro

    YES!, Enjoy, write, share, play, have fun, begin!! xoxoxo lynn

  • *GreenEyed*

    Awesome advice !!

  • loewenzahn

    i like the last point, but I wish I had the courage to just go and try to reach my dreams, but i am afraid, all comes with a price and i dont want to find out realising i burned a bridge behind me, or prioritized the wrong goal in my life.  

  • Great article, Lynn.

    That’s awesome that you actually met and worked with one of your heroes.I had a strange experience of going through some old journals and realizing that I was no longer that person. It’s at once both encouraging and scary to realize how much we have changed over time. Journaling is something I’d recommend to everyone.

    And of course, not to take things too seriously!

  • Maryanne81

    I love that last point, just do it – make the change, yes our time on earth is limited! Im just about to make a huge change of direction, I know it’s a good choice but it’s amazing how hard it is to make a change. Thanks for your wisdom x

  • After teaching for 15 years, I realized that my heart was no longer in teaching.  I was 37, had just had my third child, and resigning seemed like the most foolish thing to do.  After several months, I couldn’t deny my misery and I resigned.  Things are different, but I have never been so happy in all my life! 
    Great blog!!!

  • Lynnzavaro

    its all about following your heart and listening to it’s beat. xoxo lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Thank you! Glad you enjoyed:) xoxo lynn

  • Lynnzvaro

    There are no wrong choices. Each choice leads us closer to ourselves: If it feels right we learn and if it feels wrong we learn. Through trust in the learning we are guided in our journey. xoxo lynn

  • I still write but long ago lost the habit of writing practice. It’s something I continue to think, “I have to get back to that” about. It was easier back then, when I had a community of writer friends (my sangha!) to keep me going. It makes me happy to know that she is in person as she is in her books!

  • What an articulate and inspiring post!

    Tip #1 especially resonates with me, as I’ve been talking with some friends about “pruning” our lives… cutting back the parts of our selves and our lives that are no longer vital and useful.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Thank you for sharing – it took courage to do what you did! So happy you are happy. xoxo Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    You’re welcome and thank you! Lynn

  • Hi Lilly:
    Like you, I’m a writer too.  Natalie Goldberg is a favorite of me too.  Writing Down the Bones is one of favorites of hers.  I spent the 1st half of my life writing SF/F/Dark Fantasy.  About 7 years ago I lost ALL interest in writing.  Didn’t know why at the time but looking back I now understand I wasn’t motivated to write that genre anymore.  Now that I have my blog my love of writing has returned.  I’m writing what moves me again.


  • Lynn Zavaro

    Awesome Chris! Thanks for sharing:)

  • Narwhaltat

    Beautiful wisdom – thank you for sharing. After many twists and turns, ups and downs, I’m currently working with children, doing play therapy .. I’ve journalled for years, and it has certainly helped me to reflect and relax into the ever-changing flow of life .. and now I’m paid to bring healing play to children .. and it’s amazing .. I’m making a difference .. and who knows how long this particular chapter will last before there’s another shift, and a new direction ? :o)

  • Hope

    This is a great article ! Thanks for sharing thats why i love tiny budhha!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Me too – I love Tiny Buddha too and it is my pleasure to share! Thank you.

  • Lynnzavaro

    The feeling of making a difference is like no other. Congrats! And good for you for not gripping on to it too! Best, Lynn

  • Lynn Zavaro

    You are welcome! Light to your change of direction – how exciting!!!! xoxo Lynn

  • I think that is right – ‘there are no wrong decisions’ – that is provided that you follow your instincts.  learning to trust your instincts is tough and yet, as Lynn says, will guide us on our journey.

  • me

    i enjoyed reading it! it did help a lot, and it got me thinking quit a bit

  • Milk

    This opend my eyes love it! thank you so much will keep to this forever! “As humans we know our lives will eventually end. Whatever comes into being will go out of being. Nothing in life is permanent. What we think we have will go away.
    So, with this in mind, dive in to this thing called life. Live freely and creatively. Reach for the stars and meet your dreams. Since everything is changing anyway, we truly have nothing to lose.”