How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Discover what makes you happy. Get what you want out of life. Don’t try to change others. This is the advice of author Harry Browne in his book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. He maintains that we often enslave ourselves in a prison of our own making. He thinks that most people could have more freedom than they realize. If we recognize the prisons we are forcing ourselves into, we can grab the key and unlock the door.

Harry Browne’s speech on living free in an unfree world.

A Prison of Our Own Making

The book’s first half focuses on so-called traps that we allow ourselves to fall into. These traps cause us to give up our freedom in return for social conformity. Browne says we tend to live our lives not by what will make us happy, but by what we think will make our family or society happy. Browne says that is no way to live a good life. You’ll never be happy by trying to conform to the will of a mass conglomerate of people. He encourages us to discover for ourselves what makes a good life and live by those ideals.

There’s Always a Way to Be Happy

In the second half of the book, Browne introduces us to what he calls “direct alternatives” to living a more free life. These alternatives are creative ways to go around constraints imposed on you. For example, Browne had a business that was failing due to the large overhead of paying payroll taxes, HR, and other costs associated with having employees. He decided to make all of his employees independent contractors. This was a benefit for his business and employees. As independent contractors, they were able to deduct various expenses, lowering their tax burden. It also allowed the business to keep thriving for several more years.

Change Yourself Instead of Changing Others

The central theme of this book is that you are in charge of your own life. If you are unhappy with it, it is because you need to change yourself. It is very difficult to change the world and other people, but it is possible to change yourself. You can change by shifting your desire from changing the world, to taking responsibility and changing yourself. For Browne, there is always a way out. There is always a way to be happy. It may come with a high price, but there is a way.

Do You Value Freedom?

This type of living only works for someone who holds freedom in high regard. It won’t work for those who place a high value on the acceptance of others. I think Browne ignores the fact that most people find value in conforming. They enjoy what Rene Girard called the mimetic aspect of life. People enjoy mimicking others. They find comfort in it. While I agree with Browne’s assessment that most people could live with more freedom, I don’t think he realized that most people don’t want freedom.

If you are interested in freedom and how to live a more autonomous self-directed life, I’d suggest reading this book.

Stoic Wisdom

Browne’s advice is in line with much of what the Stoics had to teach. You can read my book, Using Stoicism to Overcome Adversity, on my site for free.


A free version of Browne’s audiobook is linked below.

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