When we think about freedom, our minds usually go to freedoms that people had to fight and die for, like freedom of religion, speech, to bear arms, and so on.
So we are quick to respond in the affirmative when confronted with philosophical questions such as “are we really free?”
Of course we’re free, we tell ourselves. We can say what we want, worship (or not) how we want, and even own guns if we want.
Johann van Goethe, who is widely regarded as the greatest and most influential writer in the German language, famously said, “none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
When you consider freedom in it truest form, which according to the Cambridge Dictionary is “the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited,” can you really say that you’re free?
Aside from the popular freedoms that we’re familiar with, are we free to do, say, think what we like without being controlled (even if it’s by fear) or limited?
Societal pressure, familial expectations, financial constraints, and fears limit many of us. We do things, not because we want to, but because we have to.
While we may be free to say what we want, political correctness holds us back from voicing our thoughts (sometimes rightly so).
We may be free to worship how we like, but religion adds even more rules and restrictions on our behavior.
Our financial constraints keep us from doing what we really want to do when we want to do it.
With all that in mind, can we say we’re really free? When you take all the constraints of life into consideration, what does it even mean to be free?
What Does It Mean To Be Free?
Some philosophers would argue that true freedom is impossible to attain. And while the thought of being completely free sounds nice, in practice, it would probably pose more problems than it would solve.
For example, imagine a world where laws were optional. If you’ve ever watched any of the Purge movies, you might find the concept of total freedom a little worrying.
But within the confines of laws, regulations, and general human decency, what does it mean to be free?
Freedom can mean different things to different people. For some people, it could mean being able to choose how they spend their day. Other people may define freedom as the ability to choose the type of work they do. To another group of people, freedom could mean the ability to buy whatever they want without having to worry about money.
When we expand our definition of freedom beyond what our government(s) assures us and take a critical look at our lives, we realize we’re not as free as we would like to think.
There are a lot of rules and guidelines that control our behaviors and police our desires. We have responsibilities and expectations that restrict how we spend our money and time. So many of our dreams have died quietly within us because we did not feel free to pursue them.
We spend our time and energy doing what is expected of us, rarely allowing ourselves to do what we want to do. While we may be physically free, our roles, responsibilities, limitations, and fears often imprison us in our minds.
At the core of the definition of freedom is choice. Many of us have had our ability to choose for ourselves taken away from us without even realizing it. So we follow the cookie cutter life that’s crafted for us, never realizing there is more to life outside our gilded cages of security.
9 Different Aspects Of Freedom
Within the confines of society, what does freedom look like? How can you be free physically, mentally, and emotionally? Below are 9 different ways we can be free:
1. Free to be your authentic self.
Freedom means being comfortable being yourself. It means knowing who you are and living in a way that is true to that. You can’t put on a different persona with different people in various circumstances and think you’re free. In reality, you’re imprisoned by the perceptions of those around you.
When you’re not your authentic self, it’s because you’re governed by the approval of others. The fear of rejection is pushing you to bury your authentic self beneath the persona you think others want or expect. Your desire for approval is causing you to be who you are not.
For some people, they’ve put on this act for so long that they no longer know who they really are. They’ve denied their authentic self for so long that they’ve lost all sense of self.
True freedom means you are free to be yourself in all your imperfect glory.
2. Free to live as you intend to live.
Freedom means being free to live as you want or intend to live. It means doing work that you’re passionate about. Being free means you work because you want to make yourself useful, in a manner of your own choosing. It does not mean you work because you have to.
This is not a freedom that is available only to the wealthy. It’s available to anyone who is willing to abandon comfort and embrace uncertainty. The freedom to live as you intend to live involves not following the usual path to success that everyone else follows. In order to have this freedom, you must chart your own path.
The path you choose will be more difficult than the well-beaten path others use, but it will lead to you working on your own terms. This path will lead to you doing work that is intentional and meaningful. Ultimately, this will lead to better job satisfaction and overall fulfillment.
3. Free from debt.
Debt limits every possibility in life. You cannot owe thousands of dollars and hope for any semblance of freedom. Financial freedom means being able to afford what you need and feeling financially stable instead of constantly stressed about making ends meet. With financial freedom, you can do work you love and feel passionate about it because you’re not chasing a high paying job in a bid to pay off debt.
Financial freedom is available to anyone at any income bracket. You don’t need to have a net worth of millions to be financially free. It might surprise you to know that some of the richest people in the world owe astronomical amounts of money.
Freedom from debt comes from not feeling the need to overspend and the ability to live within your means. Being financially free means not having to depend on other people for your basic needs, like food and clean clothes.
You don’t have to have multiple houses and cars, or travel to exotic locations to be financially free. Financial freedom can be as simple as acquiring income-producing skills that will ensure you always have job options. It can even be as simple as saving up as much money as you can, so you are not tied to a job that does not make you happy.
Financial freedom means options across many aspects of your life.
4. Free to delegate work.
Freedom to delegate work means being free to spend your time how you’d prefer. It means not being afraid to ask for help when you need it. It also means not feeling guilty to hire help for chores you hate to do, but need done nonetheless.
Many people refuse to delegate work because they’re afraid other people can’t do it as well as they can. Or they fear they’re wasting money by hiring someone else to do it. So they over stretch themselves just to make sure all the work is finished. This doesn’t help their productivity, nor their stress levels.
Being free to delegate work means taking back control of your time and how you spend it. It means upskilling people to do it as well as you can. This freedom allows you to have time to rest and recuperate. It helps you focus your energy on activities that are most beneficial to you.
5. Free to be healthy.
Illness and disease inhibit the extent to which you are free. If you are not as physically and mentally healthy as you can be, how free are you? You are limited from living a full life if you have any of the many ailments that result from lifestyle choices, such as diabetes or heart disease. If you don’t make your mental health a priority, you could fall victim to a number of mental illnesses.
Being free to be healthy also includes dealing with any addictions you may have. When you’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or anything really, you are controlled by that substance. Even something as simple as a caffeine addiction that has you drinking multiple cups of coffee every day in order to function properly restricts your freedom. The addiction does not need to have a negative impact on your health for it to impede your freedom. Anything that restricts your choice is a threat to your freedom. Addictions block your choice.
A free person takes their health into their own hands and improves their bodies the best they can. They are free from addictions and their bodies are equipped as much as possible to handle a health problem when it arises.
6. Free from the fear of being alone.
The fear of being alone has kept many people in toxic relationships that they should have left a long time ago. Freedom from the fear of being alone means valuing the relationship you have with yourself, first and foremost. It means being a complete person, without looking to someone else to complete you.
When you are afraid of being alone, you put up with behavior that you have no business tolerating. You attract people who are abusive because they can sense your fears. They might even use your fear against you to push you to accept their negative treatment.
Freedom from the fear of being alone means being free from toxic relationships, both platonic and romantic. It means loving yourself enough to leave an abusive relationship. This freedom means finding a healthy support system that helps you become a better version of yourself.
7. Free to put yourself first.
Putting ourselves first comes with a lot of guilt for many of us. We either feel guilty for taking the time to focus on our needs or we feel guilty for “wasting” limited funds on ourselves.
This guilt is often the result of years of cultural and religious teachings against being selfish and thinking about our wants and needs. In order not to seem selfish, we put anyone and everyone before our needs and wants. Sometimes even perfect strangers.
While there should be room in our lives for altruism, continuously running on empty to please everyone else only leads to health and mental challenges in the future. The freedom to put yourself first means prioritizing your self-care and your need to rest and refuel.
This freedom positively impacts the freedom to be healthy. Because by prioritizing yourself, you’re also putting your physical and mental health first. You’re being the advocate for yourself that you are for other people.
8. Free to make mistakes.
It’s impossible to learn without making a few errors along the way. But from a young age, we are indoctrinated with an unhealthy fear of making mistakes.
In elementary school, for example, after we are taught a new skill once, twice if we’re lucky, we practice it a few times through assignments and worksheets. If we get an answer wrong, the teacher marks our paper with a bright red pen. So naturally, we do our best to reduce the amount of red ink on our work because we know the reward is reserved for the person who doesn’t make any mistakes.
In reality, mistakes help us learn. It’s not likely that you’ll learn a new skill and make no mistakes right off the bat. But because we’ve learned to be afraid of making a mistake or shamed when we did, we fear doing so again in adulthood and easily give up in situations where we don’t quickly grasp what is being taught.
We now have to unlearn years of this mental conditioning that effectively sets us against improvement and development. The fear of making a mistake keeps us firmly in our comfort zone. It keeps us from branching out and reaching for our dreams. It keeps us right on the path of the status quo.
When we’re free to make mistakes, we’re open to learning, open to taking chances, and open to finding unusual solutions. This freedom gives us the courage to chart our own path, to go out in uncharted territory because we are not afraid.
9. Freedom from fear.
One thing you will notice with the different aspects of freedom mentioned above is that fear prevents us from enjoying most of them. Fear keeps us imprisoned. It prevents us from embracing discomfort and keeps us locked in the confines of our comfort zones.
With freedom comes a lot of unknown. We don’t know if we are making the right choice by stepping into our freedom. At least within our comfort zone, we’re comfortable. We may not be happy, but we know what to expect.
Freedom doesn’t give us the same guarantee. It just promises us the opportunity to do what will leave us with no regrets. Living without fear doesn’t mean the fear will disappear. Freedom from fear means not allowing fear to stop you. It means moving forward even as your knees are knocking together.
You essentially learn how to read your fear and differentiate between the fear that keeps you alive and the fear that holds you back from living your life fully.
Freedom is more nuanced than we have ever been taught or realized. It is more than just about your freedom of movement or speech. To be truly free, your mindset must embrace the possible negative impact of freedom on your immediate comfort. You must be willing to embrace a lifetime of struggle and commit to fighting against fear.
Because what is the use of religious and political freedom when we enslave ourselves by the way we live or think? True personal freedom means being able to live as you are, to do what you want, and to spend time with people you like. To cast off the expectations of society, family, culture, and religion requires a relentless pursuit of freedom.
The fight for freedom is deeply personal, but totally worth it.
You may also like:
- What Is A Free Spirit: 5 Traits That Define This Personality
- How To Live For Yourself: 12 Highly Effective Tips
- 10 No Bullsh*t Ways To Be Fearless In Life
- 18 Things Independent Thinkers Do (But Don’t Talk About)