Cheat sheet to create freedom in your life:
1) Avoid unhappiness instead of chasing your dreams.
2) Use an integrated approach.
3) Embrace frugality.
4) Explore minimalism.
5) Avoid hedonic adaptation.
6) Build alternative income.
7) Invest for passive income.
8) Practice gratitude.
9) Think big with a five year timeline.
10) Enjoy abundance.
Avoid unhappiness instead of chasing your dreams
You have been lied to.
Which leads to greater happiness:
1) Chasing and achieving your dreams, or
2) Avoiding unhappiness.
Everyone believes that you have to chase your childhood dreams and eventually achieve them to be happy.
“Avoiding unhappiness?” That sounds so lame, right?
You have been lied to!
This is not how happiness really works.
You have been led to believe that if you want something in life, and then you achieve it, THEN (and only then) will you be happy.
The truth is that we are naturally happy so long as we have our basic freedom. The lure of achieving your dreams is actually a false path to happiness. When you reach that particular dream your brain will just come up with something new to focus on, something else that you want, something that you lack.
But you don’t need to achieve any dreams in order to be happy. You can be happy right now, without achieving anything in particular!
“But” you say, “Hold on a minute. I can’t be happy right now because of this, and because of that, and because of that other thing. I am stuck in a job that I don’t like, I have to keep struggling to pay my bills, and I am not happy in this life.”
And therein lies the answer. You suffer from unhappiness for various reasons. And even if you were to achieve “your dreams,” some of those negative elements would still remain, and they would hold you back from true happiness.
The goal is not to chase happiness. If you chase happiness then it will remain elusive. The line keeps moving, even if you achieve one or more of your dreams.
The key, then, is to focus on gratitude and contentment. Make a habit of practicing gratitude. Then start rearranging your life to create more freedom and simplicity. Not necessarily chasing your dreams, but simply eliminating these points of misery and unhappiness. At the same time you will start to practice gratitude. This is the path to true happiness.
Use an integrated approach
There are many concepts to be found in this article.
Taking one or two of the suggestions can be helpful, but your best life will be lived if you are using a more integrated approach.
In other words, don’t fight against yourself. Don’t set yourself up for internal conflict.
There are many examples of this, but the biggest one by far is the relationship between frugality and wealth.
Let’s say that you work full time at a job that you dislike.
You start a side business or you devise an additional stream of income.
As you do this, you “reward yourself” and inflate your spending to match your new income level.
This keeps you trapped, reducing your freedom. If you adopt (or at least explore) some of the concepts here such as frugality and/or minimalism, then you won’t be as likely to be “fighting against yourself internally.”
Certain concepts and ideas compliment each other really well. You want to embrace ideas that work together and enhance each other. This is the idea behind the integrated approach. Synergy means that the sum of your efforts will be greater than what simple addition would suggest.
In other words, if you embrace several (or all) of the concepts found here, you can skyrocket yourself to real freedom, rather than just limping along towards the goal.
Frugality is power.
It is powerful in the sense that it can give you freedom.
I earn roughly $90/hour doing freelance work. Yet my monthly expenses total less than $1,000/month.
Do some quick math on that. I can be done working for the month in only two days! It’s not what you earn that is important, rather, it is the ratio between your income and your expenses.
This is where you find your power and increase your freedom. Frugality is the lever that can seriously change this dynamic.
Of course, there is a line where too much frugality becomes painful.
However, most people in the modern world have no idea where that particular line is for them.
So they just keep trying to spend their way to happiness. They buy solutions that they expect will fix their life and make them happy.
Most people work a job that they don’t like, then they spend all of their money (or even more than all of it by going into debt).
Thus they are stuck, resenting their job.
They have two choices: Earn more, or spend less.
If you are already working hard at a job then it is very difficult to earn significantly more. And even then, you might still hate your job (which will ultimately rob you of your freedom).
The other side of the equation is to spend less. This is frugality.
There is a point where you can have too much frugality, but if you reach that point, it is very easy to correct things (simply go buy what you need!).
If you haven’t discovered your own “frugal line” (how to minimize stress and maximize happiness through conscious spending decisions) then you might get started on that by exploring the idea of minimalism first.
Everyone should explore their frugal side until it hurts. Why not? Then you know. Then you can add back in spending. It won’t hurt forever, I promise. And the lessons that you learn will help build your freedom in the future. In other words, if you don’t really NEED that 5 dollar latte every single day to be happy, then why are you wasting your life energy on it?
I want to give you fair warning here:
Some people have turned minimalism into a religion.
I don’t want you to do that. To do that is to miss the point entirely, which is to find your comfortable level of spending and consumption.
All we want to do is to back off on your spending until it hurts. Then adjust accordingly.
You have to work for your money. You have to earn a living. Why would you want to throw money away?
Use minimalism as a tool. Use it as a means to explore your spending and consumption.
First, subtract nearly everything. Eliminate your stuff, your spending, your splurges. Get it down to the bare minimum.
Then, slowly add back in that which is truly important.
Maybe you have a really expensive cable bill each month. Kill it. Go 30 days without any television at all.
You may find that you really got value out of paying for cable television. If that is the case then you can add it back in later.
But the point is that many people do this sort of spending unconsciously. They don’t really know what is bringing them happiness and value. And they can never find out unless they make some conscious choices and explore the possibilities.
How much stuff is in your life? How often do you use that stuff? If you have piles of stuff in storage, in closets, in the garage, in the basement….what is the point of it all? Why so much waste?
These are the questions that drove me to get rid of about 80 percent of my stuff.
Doing so has been a HUGE relief. I still have the stuff I really need and use. I still have a phone, a car, a laptop, a tablet computer, and so on. I have the stuff that I really use. But I got rid of everything else. I have one tote in my living room that has my “extra” belongings in it. Things like pictures and diplomas and so on. But the rest of it is all gone. I either sold it, donated it, or trashed it.
You probably do not even realize the mental burden that your “stuff” has on you, until you get rid of it.
Again, minimalism is not a religion that I want you to adopt here. Instead, think of it as a tool, and something to explore. Purge some stuff and see how it feels. Purge some more if you like the feeling. Don’t stop purging until it starts to cramp your style. Only then have you truly found your “happiness line” when it comes to consumption.
If you never do this exercise then you are destined to fall victim to consumerism and massive waste in your life.
Avoid hedonic adaptation
Let’s say that you enjoy those 5 dollar frappuccino drinks from Starbucks.
So you get into the habit of buying one every single day. Yum, right?
Well, the first few days you get a LOT of enjoyment out of those fancy drinks. They are yummy, no doubt.
But after having one every single day in a row, it starts to lose it’s luster a bit. Not so hot any more all of a sudden.
Simple put, you got used to the treat. You adapted to it. This is known as “hedonic adaptation.”
The problem is that you are still spending 5 bucks every day, but no longer getting much enjoyment out of it.
Turn it into a treat again.
You can do this through the process of exploring frugality and minimalism (also discussed in this article).
The stoic philosophers knew this centuries ago. They would deprive themselves deliberately at times in order to regain their appreciation of the simple things in life.
Pretty smart. Yet difficult to do in practice.
Worth the effort though, as anyone who is caught on the “hedonic treadmill” is never going to find true happiness, and they are definitely not free.
Build alternative income
If you have plenty of money and you love what you do every day then you don’t have a problem with freedom. You are already free.
On the other hand, most people don’t like their jobs. So they would like to find another way to generate income.
This may not seem very practical for most people, unless you combine it with the other concepts in this article (minimalism, frugality, etc.).
In other words, I used to work a job that was 40+ hours per week, and then I spent all my paycheck.
Today, I work for 45 minutes per day and in less than 10 days I have a whole month of living expenses covered. That is real freedom. Just 45 minutes per day!
This is possible due to the following reasons:
1) I practice frugality.
2) I sought alternative income streams (outside of my day job).
3) I grew those alternative income streams. I found a different way to make money, then I got better at it.
Thus I was able to “buy” my freedom from the grind of the full time work week.
You can easily get stuck by saying “I don’t know how to create an alternative income stream.”
That is unacceptable. Do you want freedom or not?
Explore. Get inventive. Find a way to earn some money on the side. What are your skills? What are you good at? Find other people with your skills and figure out how they are making a living. How are they producing income?
“I can’t figure anything out” is not good enough. Get online, start doing research. Start learning.
Are you watching television every day? Spending time on Facebook? You could be earning money instead. Or learning different ways to do so.
No excuses. Either you want to learn how to work towards freedom, or you want to be lazy.
Not knowing how to build alternative income is no excuse. You’re on the Internet reading this now, aren’t you? Unlimited knowledge at your fingertips! Now you just have to go do the work, apply some ideas, see what works for you and what does not.
This is how I started. I tried some things and I failed at them.
And I kept trying until I found something that worked.
Invest for passive income
I created a lot of value and I sold it off to gain a pile of capital. Much easier said than done, I know.
But you can also gain a pile of capital in as little as 5 to 10 years if you work hard (even at a job you hate) or if you create additional income streams.
Of course if you ignore frugality then the extra money or savings you produce will just go to waste, and you will not gain any freedom.
This is the concept of early retirement. Save up enough money so that your investment income exceeds your living expenses. Once you reach this point you are financially free to go spend your time however you like.
You don’t have to be an investment guru (or get lucky in the markets) to make this work. I pay someone 1% to manage my investments for me. This is not a trivial fee, but on the other hand it has saved me from making some huge mistakes and losing a lot of money.
If you can save 80 percent of your job income then you can retire in 5 years flat. This assumes only a very modest return on your investment money (5 percent).
Many people believe that early retirement is out of reach but if they embrace frugality then the equation changes dramatically. Of course, if you enjoy spending more money and you also enjoy working hard at a job then you can do that too. Working hard and spending it all is the default and most people never consider the alternative, that they could invest money and retire early if they scale back their spending dramatically. Do you want your free time back, or do you want to own a bunch of stuff? You probably can’t have both.
You must choose, but choose wisely….
Someone inherits billions of dollars. They don’t work. They have never worked a day in their life. They are bratty. They are selfish. They do not empathize with others. They demand things and expect for everything to fall into their lap. They are bored with life and they want happiness to be delivered to them with no apparent effort being made.
Disgusting, right? How dare they be so ungrateful when they have all of that money just handed to them! And why are they so ungrateful? Don’t they realize that they should be happy?
Now realize this:
It’s all relative. Imagine that you are that person who has inherited billions, yet you are still ungrateful. Why?
Because to someone in a third world country who is on the verge of dying from lack of clean drinking water, you are living like a king–right now–without having billions!
Here you are, angry because your iPhone has run out of storage for all of your apps, and you are suddenly ungrateful in that moment.
Yet it is all relative. It doesn’t matter if you are broke, poor, wealthy, or filthy rich. It’s all about your attitude. It is about your level of gratitude and appreciation.
Someone enjoyed the most beautiful sunrise this morning over a 5 cent cup of coffee, yet that person is homeless and has less than a 100 dollar net worth.
And yet there are people with obscene amounts of wealth who are angry and incensed all day long because of some stupid first world problem that doesn’t really matter.
What the heck is wrong with us?
There is nothing wrong with you, as long as you can find perspective and practice gratitude. If you can find a way to be truly grateful today, then it doesn’t matter how much money is in your bank account.
A spoiled celebrity with millions of dollars is just a brat, unless they can find real gratitude in their life. Gratitude transforms them and gives them peace, contentment, stability, and even generosity.
Without gratitude we can all become spoiled brats.
Now, here is the kicker:
Gratitude is something that you practice.
It takes work.
It takes effort.
Think big with a five year timeline
Someone challenges you to win a one million dollar prize. To get the prize, you must come up with a way to generate at least $100/month in passive income. You have five years to do it.
Could you do it?
Now I realize that we can sort of quibble over what “passive income” really is. We can argue about what qualifies income to be truly “passive” all day long and not really resolve anything.
But you get the idea. If you had five years to build it up, could you come up with a relatively passive income stream that produces just $100/month?
At one time, I took this challenge (though no one was offering me a million bucks). I just wanted to build up the passive income stream.
And it took a while. Nothing happened in the first year. Nothing at all. I got quite discouraged in trying to build up a business.
And here is the key insight from this exercise:
Once you build up an income stream of $100/month, you are over half way to having an income stream of $1,000/month.
How does that work, you ask?
Simple. It is usually just a matter of scale and automation. Once you find something that can produce $100/month in income, and you learn the ropes enough to set that in motion and achieve that goal, you have the foundation to easily scale it up to $1,000/month and beyond. Once you manage to hit $100/month you already know you have a successful process. Now just go nuts with it. Freedom is within reach! Take action and claim it.
Of course, in order to do this, you have to have the guts to keep trying things until you can build that initial trickle of new income in your life.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be very passive. I started out writing and by most standards I would have only been making minimum wage at best with my skills. But as I continued to write I got much, much faster at it. More efficient. I nailed down my process, kept refining it, getting faster and faster. Now I earn good money from writing and yet I have total freedom because I:
1) Work from home, in my pajamas.
2) Write about topics I enjoy exploring.
3) Work for 45 minutes per day, then have the rest of the day to do as I please.
4) Have an endless supply of work to accommodate my skills.
I did not learn how to write efficiently overnight. It took years of work.
So you can build a business, or you can refine a skill, or you can do a bit of both.
But when you do it, expect for it to take a few years. Put in the time. Put in the effort. Expect for it to take a lot of work. You don’t have to quit your day job tomorrow. You can plan to create your freedom over a 5 year timeline.
This is very much the same thing as gratitude.
Someone can have loads of money in the bank and still feel like “scarcity” dominates their lives.
After all, it is possible to be both rich and broke at the same time. You can have very high income but spend all of your money and even be in debt.
That is scarcity. Even though you may have a very high-paying job, you may still feel like you never have enough money in order to truly be happy.
This is crazy. You can feel abundant right now, this very moment, by simply appreciating what you have.
And you can do it on an income of $1,000/month, or you can do it on an income of $5,000/month.
The absolute wealth that you have matters very little. It is more about the ratio between your income and your expenses.
I try to appreciate the little things today. My annual income is roughly 4 to 5 times greater than my living expenses, yet I only work one hour per day. This is true freedom.
I can feel abundant, or I can choose to feel scarcity. It is all about the attitude. It is all about how willing I am to practice gratitude.
For a more in-depth analysis of the concepts in this article, you may want to check out my Kindle book: “Day Jobs Suck” at Amazon.