How do you get a sense of freedom in day-to-day life? Do you achieve it through taking certain actions, such as wearing a sarong in Kew Gardens, by reaching a key stage of life, such as when you can drive and vote, or by achieving a state of mind? Many h2g2 Researchers collaborated in order to try and answer this question.
The first question is what is meant by freedom. Are there different types of freedom? It is important to remember the distinction between gaining a sense of freedom as opposed to merely feeling good or happy or comfortable. However, this distinction may change between different people and under different circumstances.
A sense of freedom is inevitably subjective as everyone defines freedom in their own way. Some people consider the big picture and a symbolic (or literal) freedom from something, others are content to consider the freedom of, say, taking their bra off at the end of the day1. One person may consider wearing their own clothes at work is about being comfortable and happy, but to someone else it may mean far more. There is a line between being held down by your job and the freedom of not having to think about it for a day or two.
Freedom from Worries
One way to experience freedom is to undertake actions that take metaphorical weights off your shoulders. These could include such things as:
- Ticking everything off a to-do list.
- Paying off a debt (or better still, all of them).
- Resolving an argument.
- Apologising for something on your conscience.
Freedom From Work
Many Researchers have commented on the end of the day sort of freedom feeling often experienced when the day's work is done. This is felt on the journey home, or when you get home and can finally take off your shoes and socks, suit and tie and wear comfy clothes and put your feet up on the sofa and relax. For many the relaxing bit doesn't actually take place until the kids have gone to bed, and even then that's the time for rushing round catching up with the housework and tidying up the mess the kids have created during the day.
After a hard day being at others' beck and call, who doesn't enjoy being able to lie down and read a good book or watch a DVD of your choice (even if doing so while ironing)? There's nothing like the feeling of finally switching off the work mobile on a Friday afternoon with a whole free weekend ahead. Or is there?
One Researcher described the ultimate feeling of freedom from work with the words:
Well, I've just chucked in my job without anything to go to, and it's not even the first time I've ever done that. It feels marvellous, tremendously liberating.
Freedom from Service
A similar freedom was that of being discharged from military service. This conversation began with a joke:
A soldier had just been discharged. 'I'm free!' he said as he walked down the street. 'That's nothing,' said a little kid. 'I'm four.'
This reminded a Researcher of what he called his 'one 'real' freedom' to be recalled:
After 21 years, most of which bore a heavy responsibility for the radio communications of our military - world-wide - and six years of keeping the NORAD air picture alive for all of Canada. The Friday morning that I dropped my uniform for the last time was truly freeing. Yes, I was going directly into the same work on Tuesday. But as a contractor, I felt lighter. Stuff was still my responsibility, but it didn't weigh as heavy for that next 16 years.
Stages of Life
- Learning to crawl/walk.
- Learning to talk.
- Learning to read and write.
- Being able to ride a bike.
- Being allowed to walk to and from school without adult supervision.
- First long distance journey or holiday without parents.
- Getting a front door key.
- Being allowed to have sex and/or get married.
- Being able to drive a car.
- Being able to work full-time, join a trade union etc.
- Being able to enjoy higher education.
- Being able to vote, watch 18-rated films, drink, do jury service and buy a house.
- Leaving home, possibly to go to university.
- Moving into your own home.
- Having your children leave home.
To what extent these stages are liberating very much depends on individual experience. So for instance, one Researcher said:
Walking and bike were part of life, but domestic rules didn't allow riding off the family property. Walking the ¾ mile to school began at age five and didn't seem freeing at all. It was just a necessity of life, including in the winter storms. Never had a key to the house, never did the university, in fact - much of the list happened nearly overnight when I simply walked away, and took on the world on my own at age 17.
While another Researcher had a different experience, saying:
My sense of freedom received a massive boost when I turned 60 and got hold of my bus pass - now I can travel anywhere in Scotland for free without having to worry about finding a parking space or coping with psychotic/drunk/drugged drivers making the roads around here something of a white-knuckle ride.
Judge, Jury and Execution?
Ever since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, one of the greatest freedoms enjoyed is the right to be tried in a fair court of law by your peers. The other side of this freedom and actually performing jury service does seem to be an area that most of our h2g2 Researchers felt was the antithesis of freedom. Researchers said:
Do you know anyone who couldn't wait to be a juror? As one who has been in juries for six trials, I can tell you that it's a form of poorly-paid servitude. Most of my cases involved defendants charged with drunk driving, or disgruntled property owners challenging the government's offering price for eminent domain seizures. Those were fine, even somewhat enjoyable. But there was a trial where the defendant must have served some serious jail time as a result of the jury's decision. And I was lucky enough to have an excuse for not serving when they were looking for juries in murder trials.
You are required, by law, to spend your day(s) in a courtroom for far less than the minimum wage. I grant you that good jurors are needed. That's a given. But jurors have suffered mental distress in particularly gruelling trials. Some have spent eight or nine months on trials. It's not fair to subject people to that for peanuts. I say, pay them fairly if they have to go through an ordeal.
Freedom of Movement
One freedom frequently mentioned was the freedom of movement, the ability to go where you want when you want. We have already seen a bus pass being mentioned earlier in this Entry. Driving and cycling were also predominantly mentioned. Of course, due to location and other factors, not everyone is able to enjoy freedom of movement as others. One Researcher stated:
You do have more freedom in that regards if you live on the mainland than on the Isle of Wight. If I decided today I'd like to drive to the nearest city this weekend, I'd have to book the ferry in advance and know what time I'll be travelling to and travelling back from the mainland. I'd then keep a close eye on the time all the time I was away, allow plenty of time for travelling back so that traffic or accidents wouldn't affect me, and try to arrive back an hour before the ferry departs. It cuts down on spontaneity somewhat, though it is not so bad in the winter, of course, when the ferries are free from tourists.
One Researcher knew exactly the best way to enjoy the freedom of movement:
Backpacking gives you that sort of feeling. Getting on a train or a bus or a ferry and leaving nothing behind. Only way is forwards. With a car, say, left parked at the railway station, you are always tied and obliged to do the round trip back to it. If it's your own property, you've probably also got a niggle somewhere worrying about if it's okay while you're gone.
A car provides great freedom. For many, it is easy to get in a car and drive, knowing that they can stop anytime and anywhere they want. You are not at the mercy of an airline, train, bus driver or hovercraft pilot. Free from timetables and schedules, you can travel and get there when you get there, with the option of arriving rather later than intended if it suits. Driving a car is the freedom to explore the world, and explore it at your own pace.
Researchers have described this freedom with the words:
My car is six years old and I am its only owner. I have had this car for 75 months. It has 204,000 miles on it. We've taken it on trips through at least a dozen different states, and have at least three road trips planned for the summer. But it doesn't always have to be a big trip, I've been known on a random afternoon to just drive around the metro to areas I haven't visited in a while, just to see what's changed since the last time I was there. Gosh, just writing this is making me itch to go for a drive.
Another Researcher agreed, saying:
I just hop aboard my steed and drive without specific aim or purpose.
This shows that for many, the act of driving is the reward in itself. It isn't just a method of getting from A to B, but a way to experience a pure sense of freedom. Not everyone agreed. Many Researchers who drive do not feel the same at night, stating that as long as it's not dark, they don't mind driving much, or even saying that they dread driving after dark. One Researcher disagreed completely:
Driving doesn't give me a sense of freedom at all. I would be continually worrying about the expense of the petrol I am using, especially if I'm not going anywhere for a good reason. I have a guilty conscience if I'm alone in the car, and also have to concentrate on driving safely and economically.
Many other Researchers felt that the best way to experience unadulterated freedom was by cycling, rather than driving, for a whole range of reasons. Like having a car, people love going on bike rides and knowing they have the freedom to go anywhere. The bicycle is definitely a symbol of freedom. After all, historically, the humble bicycle enabled the poorest people in society who couldn't afford their own horse undreamt of freedom of movement.
Perhaps an even greater impact was on women's liberation in the 1890s, as soon as the idea of attaching a chain to a bike was recognised as being better than just making the front wheel really big. To paraphrase a saying about fish and fishing, give a woman a lift and she'll rely on you for a lift back, but give her a bicycle and she can go anywhere at any time. It was also the bicycle that made it sociably acceptable for a woman to wear trousers, as you can't really ride a bike in skirts, meaning women could choose to wear an ever-greater range of clothing.
Learning how to ride a bike is often considered a key stage in life too. One Researcher had just taught their children how to cycle and stated how the delighted expressions on their faces reflected their discovering a real sense of freedom.
Researchers' comments about cycling included:
- Best thing I've done for freedom was to ditch my car completely and just cycle commute. No more traffic jams evvah!
- I can switch [my journey] out to the countryside either early or late to get a de-stress if I wish.
- Cars - meh. Life is too short for more car-angry-jams.
- Cresting a hill on my bicycle and seeing an entire unexplored vista ahead.
- Zooming down an exciting descent is a freedom on its own too.
- My travel to work by bus took over an hour and a half in rush hour, or 15 minutes by bike. So a bicycle provides extra free time and the money saved by cycling rather than any other form of transport can be spent on whatever you want too.
Another reason that a bicycle is often preferred to a car is that in a car you are protected and separated from the world around you, whereas the wider environment surrounds a cyclist in a much more intense way. You just can't get out as far into the countryside with any other mode of transport, aside from probably motorbikes, although even then the experience is different. As a cyclist is quiet, they get a more intimate encounter with nature. Researchers who are also frequent cyclists described often seeing buzzards, red kites, hares, rabbits and sheep, owls swooping inches above their heads, bats, swans, geese, moorhens, ducks, wild ponies, cattle and the experience of almost colliding into a deer running right in front of them. Most of these would be long gone and hiding from speeding-past motorbikes and cars.
Unlike a car, a bicycle is often immune from traffic jams. One Researcher remembered:
Following a storm a large tree had fallen across a main road into town, stopping all traffic from flowing. While all the motorists were stuck, honking their horns at this large, fallen tree in the vague hope that this would accomplish something, I cycled up to the tree, lifted my bike over it to the other side, climbed over myself and rode off largely unaffected.
The liberty of cycling can be enjoyed at different levels. Not only can you cycle for short journeys during the day, including the basic commute to and from work, you can participate in longer adventures too. One Researcher wrote:
The long randonnées I tend to ride are great for that free time to think too as you can easily spend all day and all night alone in thought if you're anything like me - ie too fast for others on the flat and slow uphill hence a bungee companion at best.
I always say 'you can't go swimming without getting wet, and the same's often true with cycling'.
The Great Outdoors
For many, the freedom comes not from the bicycle itself, but the facilitation it gives you to get out into the wilds. Even if you're not on a bike, being able to escape from towns and cities into open countryside, forests or seashore definitely gives a real sense of freedom. There's nothing like climbing to the top of a down and seeing a wide, panoramic vista all around. Researchers all agreed, saying:
I like to walk in the forests. Up on the mountains, but not too far from trees, because the open mountain can be miserable when the rain comes in. I try and plan my walks to avoid the rain, but you can't really do that in Ireland. You just have to put up with the rain, because it is part of the world. I sometimes on my day off during the week go to places and see what the walking is like, so I can plan a nice route that is 10-15km in length, not too difficult and preferably takes in a few nice views. If it ends up at a pub that serves food, that's the icing on the cake.
I used to work in the New Forest (well, right on the edge). I could take my packed lunch and drive two minutes to one of the picnic sites, to have a National Park entirely to myself. Rubbish job, but best lunch breaks I ever had.
I'd love to more conveniently tour the New Forest now - just used my car back then. The consolation is that Wales is even better. The Gower Peninsula resembles the New Forest rather a lot as it happens.
Of course, not everyone is near the New Forest, but fortunately a similar freedom can be experienced in many parks or gardens. One Researcher shared:
My sense of freedom is being anywhere that could be considered country, or outdoors. Even a day in Kew Gardens is like being in the Country. I prefer it if there are no people, though, so the wild area to the West is my preferred area. I used to love rambling, or cycling in the countryside, but since my disability has taken hold this is no longer an option, and even reduces getting into gardens like Kew as I am restricted, a little, to the paths. However, I do go off-road given the opportunity.
Of course, the ultimate way to experience the great outdoors is to stay there.
I have rarely felt 'free' in almost any sense of the word but the best and nearest was as a earliest teen. In early July, if I didn't have a job yet, I would take what I considered the minimum needs, and off to relatively tame woodlands for a week or so. Usually four or five days at a time were enough to clear the head and soul.
Another Researcher wrote:
Camping gives an amazing sense of freedom – that you can go anywhere with a tent, put it on the ground and there you have a temporary home.
There's No Place Like Home
That said, creature comforts are wonderful after you've gone without them for a while and there is nothing like the experience of not having them to make you appreciate what you have done without. One Researcher wrote:
Having come back from camping in a field with over 4,000 people I now feel a sense of freedom in being able to get out of bed and walk across the hall to the clean, stocked toilet without having to get dressed, cross a field, queue for 45 minutes for the one surviving flushable toilet (all the others having broken the day before and still showing the sordid remains of the last dozen people who used them) which has long-since run out of toilet paper. Not only that, my bathroom has a working shower – I can control the water temperature and everything! Bliss.
For many, the ultimate feeling of being at home comes when you get your own home for the very first time. A Researcher described this with the words:
I remember spending the first night in my own apartment. I went straight from my parents' home to my own apartment, didn't move in with roommates right away. I remember that feeling of being able to do whatever I wanted and not having to answer to anyone. I could stay out all night and no one would hear me come in. I could sleep until 1pm and no one would be banging on my door asking if I was planning to sleep all day. I could have friends over 'til all hours without having to ask anyone's permission. You don't really consider how liberating that is, how much freedom is achieved in that situation, because it's a point in life not everyone experiences.
Of course, not everyone will experience that particular freedom. Many people move from their parents' to room with friends, especially nowadays as few can afford rent on their own. People stay with their parents much longer, or stay with their roommates until they find a partner and move in with them. By then there may be children, and then it's many, many years before they move out and by then there's the possibility of housing and caring for parents as they age.
Busy Doing Nothing, Trying To Find Lots of Things Not To Do
For some, freedom is only achievable on days free of any planned activity. Only when nothing is timetabled can they feel free. A Researched admitted:
I'm very punctual, and the thought of being late anywhere is very stressful. So my real sense of freedom comes when I have nowhere to be and nothing that needs doing. The only time I experience this properly is during that period between Christmas and New Year - to be exact, when I close the door behind me on returning home from the family party on Boxing Day. I know there are no plans on my horizon until New Year's Eve (not even then if I can persuade family members that actually, I'm very happy when it's just me and the dog). Beyond walking the dog twice a day, there is nothing that needs doing, I eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired; it's pure bliss.
Others similarly felt free when they find out that events planned for later in the day have been cancelled, or prolonged periods of free time without plans equals freedom. Although some people are uncomfortable with being alone, if you're not one of those people, you can't get much more freedom than being on your own, beholden to no one, with nothing in the diary to worry about.
I will be experiencing freedom this weekend as I get an entire day to myself. I was nearly frozen by the possibilities of how I could spend the day without having to consider anyone else's preferences, wants, or needs. I could browse in the shops to my heart's content. I could go for a drive - VERY tempting - anywhere I like and stop as often, or not, as I like. I could go to the pool and not have to worry about where my offspring are. I could sit in my favourite chair and watch Star Trek all day without having to hear 'do we have to watch another episode?!' in a whiny voice.
For many, the best way to feel freedom is to relax and de-stress. There is nothing like finding freedom from worries and pressures. This may involve different methods of meditation to empty their minds of thoughts that normally race through. Many feel that keeping this simple is best, so that you can do it without agonising as to whether or not you are doing it right.
Techniques recommended included sitting comfortably in a chair, arms relaxed at your side, and looking down at your abdomen as you breathed, focusing on a button or navel. Saying something such as 'om' is optional. One Researcher recommended it with the words:
It does help, though the relief is not always very long-lived.
Another way to relax is to find somewhere you can feel relaxed and free. We have already seen how escaping from the busy, city life into the great outdoors can help. Similarly, there are other places that help to shut out the cares and worries of the modern world and relax. One person said:
I like to lock myself in the loo. It's the only place where no one is going to interrupt me.
Other people find comfort in noise, rather than the traditional peace and quiet many people associate with relaxation, but which can often sound empty.
Usually, apart from in the confines of a locked small room, I feel liberated if I'm surrounded by white noise. I can't hear what anyone is saying and can't talk to anyone myself. Doing the hoovering, standing on a rocky beach or in a raging thunderstorm. Free to think - or not - as I wish.
Another Researcher agreed, stating they preferred:
...either sufficient noise to drown out any other noise, or total silence... I often use ridiculously loud music on headphones to aid in meditation, with breathing, which just seems to work to free up the mind.
Perhaps this was best summed up with the words:
Thinking is my freedom. Sadly, there are too many obstacles in my life and the world in general which prevent it.
Many people find freedom in pursuing a hobby, with music a particularly good example, both practicing and listening. One Researcher described this particularly well, saying:
If I am down, annoyed or in need of a lift, then grabbing my fiddle and playing for an hour or so gets the endorphins singing. It may start off rubbish as I work out my frustrations and angst, but gradually as I calm down and start appreciating the instrument and the music, there comes that inner peace, tranquillity, oneness with the world. Music truly does sooth the savage beast!
Artistic creation, whether in writing stories (in which you can kill off people), painting or anything similar is definitely a way of getting a sense of freedom. As is playing and pretending to be someone else in, say, a murder mystery or local amateur dramatic production. Cooking, too, is an expressive freedom, as you can adapt existing recipes to personal taste in order to create your own, unique tasty treats.
Of course, escapist fiction, such as a good film, television series or particularly a book inspires the imagination which provides an excellent route to freedom. There is nothing to beat escaping into a good book, with one Researcher admitting they are particularly fond of reading murder mysteries as a guilty pleasure.
Being allowed to go to places and do things that members of the public can't do gives a sense of freedom. Have you ever had a VIP pass or had a behind-the-scenes tour? Some Researchers have, with one person running along an international airport's runway at 6am for charity while another attended an international air show, complete with VIP parking, access and other perks.
Of course, you do not need to be an adult to gain access that others do not. If you are a child and live in the UK, you can earn a Blue Peter Badge from the age of six to 16 to gain free access to theme parks and museums nationwide.
Imagine no Possessions
One Researcher thought about getting freedom from material possessions:
Later in life, de-cluttering and ridding oneself of stuff that would only have got chucked out when the relatives start going through your stuff when you've kicked the bucket anyway.
Another Researcher described a book they had read called The Art of Impossibility by Bill Wahl, which is about a chap who led a totally controlled life until his passport, driving licence and all his other ID got stolen.
Freedom from Life?
This led the Researcher to thinking of the ultimate freedom; being free of this mortal coil:
Possibly, even, especially after a painful illness, the actual bucket-kicking [is a form of freedom]. Except you're no longer there to enjoy it.
It was also noted that a similar freedom to that, but further down the scale, was the feeling when a headache, toothache or other physical pain finally lets up. Simply enjoying being able to breathe easily after a heavy cold!
Of course it is almost impossible to mention every single thing that can help provide a sense of freedom. For many the explosion in modern technology, in particular mobile phones and the Internet and all the wondrous tasks they can perform, provide previously undreamt of freedoms. Many are as simple as being able to travel far and wide and still keeping in touch with friends and family. However, communicating online via social media can create as much angst as it resolves...
Particularly liberating is achieving a personal goal, especially one that other people doubted you could. The best way to discover exactly where your limits are is to break through them.