Make People Happy by Understanding What Freedom Means to Them

freedomI had a really interesting discussion with Hiten Shah and Nadia Eghbal the other day about freedom and what it really meant for each of us.

Freedom is something many of us strive for. It can affect where we choose to work, who we date, who we live with, where we live and probably a lot of subtle things we don’t realize.

But what does freedom mean?

My knee jerk reaction would be that freedom is having control over what I’m doing at any given moment.

In reality, freedom can look different for everyone. For some it’s important that their entire life feels free. For others, they just want to control certain aspects of their life in order to feel free.

Freedom can be…

…making decisions for yourself.

…not having to answer to others.


…working on a team.

…working less.

…being mentally challenged.

…being able to spend more time with your kids.

…doing physical activity.

…working from home.

…working in an office.

…vacation time.


People find a sense of freedom in such a wide range of things and probably a combination of things. As entrepreneurs, managers or leaders, it’s important to understand what freedom means to each person individually instead of creating overarching standards that apply to everyone.

Note that freedom is different from motivation. A lot of people seek to improve someone’s productivity by figuring out what motivates them. Some of the things listed above can be considered motivation as well, but it’s not about finding out what will drive someone to do good work. It’s about understanding the environment in which they’ll be truly happy and in turn, do good work. There a subtle but important difference there.

I think sometimes we don’t even pay attention to what brings ourselves a sense of freedom. We just assume it’s time, money, autonomy…all the things that society says should make you happy. Maybe if you take a step back and think about the moments in your life when you’ve felt completely free, it had nothing to do with those things.

What brings you a sense of freedom? What brings the people around you a sense of freedom?

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Photo cred: Coal Miki

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