If you’re like millions of people around the world, you might find yourself wrestling with feelings of pessimism. “At the end of 2021 global hope and happiness are decreasing around the world compared to last year,” Gallup International reports. In the United States and several other countries including Germany, the U.K., Australia and India, hope has decreased “sharply.”

There are all sorts of reasons, from the pandemic to the economy, climate change, political tensions and much more. As someone who works for inclusion, equality, racial justice, opportunities for women and other crucial concerns, I see how easy it is for people to fall into pessimism. We can start to define the world around us by what’s going wrong, and feel helpless against insurmountable problems.

But when we do that, we lose the appreciation for what’s going right. And we lose sight of what a profound difference we can make. That’s why I’ve created a ritual for myself to dramatically shift my outlook. It can work for you, too.

I call it a personal freedom assessment. I ask myself six key questions:

  • Do I feel free? This includes the freedom to create, withdraw, excel, slow down, make my own choices, and more.
  • Are there situations where I feel limited by others?
  • Are there situations where I am limiting myself?
  • What can I do to feel more free?
  • What will I do next with the freedoms I have?
  • Am I operating with gratitude for the freedoms I have?

In considering these questions, I focus on context. I keep in mind all the freedoms I have today that previous generations could barely imagine, from the days of Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King, Jr..

And I think about people in the world today who still lack these freedoms and opportunities. As the OECD’s Better Life Index points out, the United States is “above average in income wealth, health status, jobs and earnings, education and skills, personal security, subjective well-being, environmental quality, social connections, and civic engagement.” 

But there are also things we easily take for granted, which a personal freedom assessment leads us to rediscover.

Restoring childlike wonder

Take, for example, the unlimited access to information and education. As a Gen X’er who did not grow up with the Internet, I pause to experience amazement that in this era, you can learn any skill in the world on YouTube. How incredible is that?

The same goes for the ability to create a startup, to meet people without leaving home even during a pandemic, and to explore places all over the world virtually. I actively allow myself to feel childlike wonder about all this.

It’s natural to be consumed with thoughts about what we don’t have. It’s crucial to take time to marvel at what we do.

Connecting with your why

This assessment helps give me clarity and perspective, restoring positivity. It also impels me to take action. With a newfound awareness of all this freedom I have, I’m inspired to consider what I can do to keep moving things forward.

The answer is my why — my goals, hopes and dreams to contribute in a positive way. I find myself remembering that I can make a difference. This is essential. The people who change the world are the ones who think they can. It’s up to us to use our freedom to set goals and work hard for results.

Of course, there are still many impediments and challenges. But the last thing we need is to give up — which is where pessimism can lead. 

Being joyful

Another part of the freedom assessment is feeling a sense of joy. If you’re not having fun and finding happiness in your life, then what is all that freedom for? 

This means looking deep within yourself. Have you internalized messages that tell you can’t do something you would love to do, or that you shouldn’t bother to try? Are you limiting your own capacity to chase dreams, explore new pathways, and experience the joys of success? It’s easy to let naysayers affect our thinking. It takes work to erase negative thinking patterns. But it’s worth it.

A personal freedom assessment helps make you excited and energized to change your reality — whether by touching one life in a positive way or helping to tackle systemic problems that affect many.

Once you do your freedom assessment, schedule regular check-ins with yourself. Each month or each week, ask yourself whether you’re keeping in mind the freedoms you have, and whether you’re living a life that honors them. Each time, it will renew and re-energize you. It will help you thrive.