We have certain freedoms in Western society which we regard as inalienable rights. The US constitution states certain rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement. But could it be possible that we restrict ourselves, or that the nature of our economic reality in the post-bust era confine some of our freedoms?
It’s worth taking a look at five forms of freedom which are within our reach, assuming we are willing to be assertive enough to make them our own.
First there is freedom of choice. We are able to choose where to live, where to work, how much to spend on food and transportation, and to some extent even where to go to college. Second there is freedom of association – we have a choice in who shares our lives, and this includes our right to privacy. Third there is freedom of speech, where we are extremely fortunate here in North America to be able to express ourselves mostly freely. Fourth there is a freedom which is not as high-profile but it is powerful because it has the ability to restrict all the other freedoms – this is financial freedom, which we will discuss. Then finally there is a freedom which we sometimes forget that we have – choice of attitude.
Let’s look at these five degrees of freedom and how we could make them work for us in our quest for happiness.
1. Freedom Of Choice
From the cold North of Alaska to the sunny climes of Florida, and from the results-driven East Coast to the more laid-back West Coast, America offers many choices of where to make one’s home. To a certain degree one can choose where to work, and also where to live. This choice of abode is strongly influenced by our financial position.
The fourth freedom – financial freedom – could vastly broaden someone’s choice of which corner of the country to call home, since people who are not dependent on employment income can choose to live pretty much anywhere, with the job market stresses completely removed from the equation.
Another freedom of choice is that of where we work. Whether one is financially independent or not, there is sometimes value in continuing some form of employment, even if it is volunteer work. Non-profit or unpaid work could feed our passions and grant us a deeper sense of meaning.
Furthermore, thanks to economies of scale and ample competition, we have a wide choice in food products and grocery items which we need on a daily basis. We could shop at a discount store or buy organic produce at farmer’s markets. As far as transportation goes, most cities and towns have ample public transit and dwellers of large cities sometimes don’t need to spend money on a vehicle at all.
It is the choice that stems out into other freedoms, and which could lead to attaining financial freedom faster, especially if it means avoiding debt. Students starting their academic life also have a wide choice of post-secondary options, from community colleges to world-class universities. But this is driven by whether you chose to work to your best potential during high school and beyond. Have you made full use of all the freedoms of choice you have?
2. Freedom Of Association
This freedom goes far beyond the question of who one wants to ‘Friend’ on Facebook, or ‘Connect to’ on LinkedIn. Ensuring this freedom for ourselves includes taking care of our online privacy and protecting our identity.
Recent research from Princeton University showed that browser cookies can be used to build an alarmingly accurate and detailed picture of an individual’s online activity and could even identify someone. This practice is called ‘cookie linking’ and could compromise one’s privacy.
One way to protect oneself against trackers and cookie linking is by installing tools such as a tracker blocker from Ghostery.com. The recent HeartBleed bug debacle only emphasizes the need to protect oneself. Young people are also increasingly gravitating toward smaller online circles where there are fewer or no advertisements, and of course where there are no parents either.
3. Freedom Of Speech
The right to freedom of speech is laid down in the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. Freedom of speech could be defined as the right to publicly express any opinions without restraint or censorship.
Citizens living in most of North America and much of Europe take this right for granted, but shockingly this freedom is nonexistent or highly limited even in the 21st century, censorship still going strong in countries such as Egypt and, increasingly, in Ukraine. Americans could use freedom of speech to be vocal about injustice all around the world. One doesn’t have to be a billionaire to be an activist for freedom.
4. Financial Freedom
Are you falling into a debt trap? Don’t pay lenders for the rest of your life. Be very cautious when taking on debt and pay it off quickly. One of my financial heroes is David Bach – author of “The Automatic Millionaire”. Bach writes simply that the slow and steady approach of paying ourselves first (setting aside a small amount every month) could bring the reward of financial freedom.
Financial freedom means no mortgage or other debt which forces us to be in employment. This brings the ability to experience more freedom in the first three categories which we discussed. Owning one’s own home (however modest) free and clear should be a priority for anyone hoping to taste financial freedom. The Tiny House Movement is a manifestation of this trend, where people of all ages are building themselves small but affordable homes in highly creative ways, all in an effort to avoid the debt trap.
Another manifestation of the financial freedom trend can be found in many of the world’s large cities, where many people have opted out of car ownership thanks to the quality and availability of public transit.
5. Choice Of Attitude
Sometimes changes occur in our world over which we have little control. We could suddenly become ill, or lose our job. In 2008, according to an article by David Goldman in CNN Money, a total of 2.6 million jobs were lost. This was the biggest job loss since the end of World War II.
Even under such circumstances we still have the ability to choose how we will react. In 2009, a woman called Angela Logan baked apple cakes to save her Teaneck home from foreclosure. Her story is now the subject of a movie and an inspiration to many. Optimism is an action whereby we choose to see the positive daily, even when it is not easy. When facing challenges, we always have the choice to look at all angles and select how we will move forward. This choice of attitude also has an impact on our health. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic we can reduce stress and live a healthier life by taking a glass-half-full approach.
We have the power in our own hands. We can all choose to harness the five degrees of freedom right now – we can choose to speak out, to be selective about our associations while still remaining open and inclusive. We can truly find financial freedom if we are committed to it, and even the step of thinking about these choices is a positive step and an optimistic action.