What does it mean to be free? What is freedom? It seems like a fair question to ask given that throughout history many people have died for this concept.
In the United States, we often think of freedom in terms of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but these are simply protections of our personal liberty. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The Constitution only guarantees you the pursuit of happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Indeed, the document seems to define freedom as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and there’s lots of grey area in there for what that means.
So let’s turn to the man who originated the words “pursuit of happiness” and who paved the way for the ideas that led to the American and French revolutions, John Locke (1632-1704). Locke wrote,
“The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action.”
With this statement, Locke is differentiating happiness from the pursuit of short-term pleasure, or “imaginary” happiness. Locke goes deeper into this in ways too expansive to cover in this short blog, but what he’s saying, in essence, is that to be truly free we need to keep our eye on the ball, which is our long term happiness or we can end up getting distracted by shiny things that bring us momentary pleasure but long term misery.
I bring this up now because it is election season, and as we watch politicians battle it out for votes, we also hear them make lots of promises. These promises appeal to one segment of or another in an attempt to make the population believe that these vote seekers hold the ideas and the plans to make life better in this country.
Forgive me for sounding cynical, but experience has long confirmed my belief that government rarely has the solution to make anyones’ lives better regardless of who is in charge. These promises, whether they be to veterans or to any other group in America, are, in my mind, attempts to win over populations that are vulnerable to the idea of being given better lives. It is also my firm belief that expecting government to give us anything besides security and a level playing field is an invitation for tyranny.
I am not saying that the democratic process is ineffective. I want you all to participate and to have your voices and your beliefs heard. Who we choose to lead this country matters a great deal in ensuring that institutions are run properly, that our security is preserved, and in the interpretation of our laws. But, regardless of who is in charge, we are responsible for our own lives and the manner in which we use our liberty.
So, on top of getting out to the polls this November, this is my vision for how I am going to pursue my own idea of freedom:
- Writing down and working toward my goals for the next one hundred days. For this, I am using The Freedom Journal by John Lee Dumas, an Army veteran and entrepreneur. I am doing this to give myself direction and to keep my eye on the ball to avoid short term distractions.
- Working to improve my health by eating better and exercising more. It’s hard to pursue freedom if you do not have your health and many of us forget this. You cannot rely on the medical system to fix you if you’re already broken down. At best, medicine can only alleviate the symptoms of what are probably much larger issues. The best way that we can ensure a longer and happier life is by taking care of our bodies and minds with good nutrition and healthier lifestyles.
- Practicing extreme ownership over my life and my business as laid out in the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. This is important because it feeds into an understanding that to be free, you must be disciplined and you must own your world by taking responsibility for everything within your realm of influence. Most of our problems are not the world’s fault, they are our own, and we need to fix them through our own actions.
- Being of service to others through my business. This is what brings meaning to my work life and what gets me out of bed in the morning. This is important because it gives me a purpose, greater than money, to be doing what I am doing.
Your pursuit of happiness may be very different from mine, but I do know that most of these concepts can translate to help you in your own journey regardless of what that looks like.
The big takeaway here is this: we live in a country that promises the “pursuit of happiness” and we hold that value close to our hearts. But rather than simply paying lip service to it, I really want you to practice liberty. To me that means truly living your life, and not just supporting one ideal or another. So get out there and live.