You’re up at 6:00 a.m. to feed the dog, water the plants, get the kids up, fed and out, yourself showered, prepped and ready, zooming out the door for another day of hassle, deadlines, demanding bosses/clients/customers, too much to do in too little time, and the refrain that reverberates through your brain like a bad song is “I gotta do this, I gotta do that” as in “I have to, I must do” – whatever it is.

You push yourself to get things done, you grit your teeth against the pressure of all these “gottas” because they don’t exactly let up as the day goes on. There’s kids/things to pick up or drop off, errands to run, chores to do, and all the at-home duties it takes to keep body and soul alive, whether you’re responsible for just yourself, or a brood of 10. You go to bed wound tightly around your pillow, muttering “I gotta get to sleep” as your nervous energy keeps you going despite your exhaustion.

Then you wake up and do it all over again.

And you wonder why you’re depressed. Why even vacation doesn’t do it for you, why you’re tired and dragging all the time. Yet some people are cheerful, upbeat and energized with even worse schedules and graver responsibilities than your own – how do they do it? Is it a genetic thing, you know, they have the happy gene and you don’t? Maybe. But the more likely answer is, they’ve discovered the power of “I wanna” versus “I gotta.”

You see, when you look at your life as an unending series of “I gotta,” all you see are obligations, and obligations are the opposite of freedom. It’s as if you mentally imprisoned yourself within the tight confines of duty, with no breathing room for inspiration or joy. Instead, take a step back, and look at the bigger picture.

What is it that you really want? Probably what most of us want – happiness for ourselves and our families, good health, some measure of financial security. Well, all those things that overwhelm you as the “gottas” are actually opportunities helping you achieve those things you want. Getting the animals, plants and living beings taken care of in the morning contributes to you and your family’s happiness and health. Meeting those deadlines, dealing with those bosses/clients/customers are ways you achieve that financial security you want.

The more you see your “I gottas” not as obligations, but as opportunities to get those things you want in life, the more you can say “I wanna” as in “I want to do” whatever it is that will bring those things into your life. Free yourself from the joyless prison of “I have to” with “I want to!” and you’ll find yourself surprisingly energized, motivated and inspired.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Everyday Life" (Insomniac Press, 2006). Her new book, "Your Man Is Wonderful (Free Press) will be released in January 2009. For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives through appreciation--at work, at home and in relationships. E-mail:, website: