Be Free: Principles in Pursuit of a Life Well Lived


Next week marks the 240th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia. Almost all suffered great hardships – from mortal wounds, to the death of family members – during the Revolutionary War. Not one, however, turned his back on the other signers by defecting back to the King. All honored the final, beautifully composed sentence of the document, by which they declared that “…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

As made clear through their pledge, they fought not for their lives, nor their fortunes. They risked everything for ideas and beliefs that were considered radical at the time: Freedom and Liberty. And many did, in fact, lose everything in pursuit of these principles. While history books and movies focus on legends such as Franklin, Washington, Adams and Jefferson, lesser told are the stories of the signers who dared greatly and died in poverty. The common thread that united these men, and the thousands of men and women who stood with them in solidarity, was a yearning to undertake a grand experiment in pursuit of freedom.

Over two centuries after our forefathers fought for freedom on the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, Saratoga and Bunker Hill, we live freely, and as a country fight not to secure liberty, but to preserve it.

Another battle, however, rages on a less visible battlefield, and it is one in which we are all combatants. This battle, fought inside our minds, is an internal struggle about what to do with the freedom we enjoy during the one precious life we have to live.

Author Steven Pressfield wrote in the War of Art that, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” The point Pressfield makes, that most of us never self-actualize due to various forms of resistance in our minds, is not a new one. In fact it’s been made for millennia. 2,500 years before Pressfield, Confucius explained that, “We have two lives, and the second one begins when we realize we only have one.”

The “second life” is often shackled by mental restraints in the form of resentments, regrets, jealousies, fears and doubts, as well as physical and financial impediments such as unwieldy and unmanageable possessions and debts. These shackles prevent us from living the life we were meant to live. They inhibit personal freedom – true freedom in the form of a life of passion, meaning and contribution.

So as we celebrate the independence of our country, let us declare independence from the shackles that inhibit the actualization of our true selves.

I fight this battle every day. Some days I win. Many others I lose. The good news is that, as recognized by Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, each day presents a new opportunity: “Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

The essential weapon in this battle is mindfulness. To be aware of the challenges, and focused on the objectives, is to be in the fight.

With this in mind, here are 25 principles I try to remind myself of in pursuit of a life well lived:

  • Create every day.
  • Play every day – with your kids and without.
  • Celebrate small wins.
  • Time is the only non-renewable resource.
  • Achievement is important, but every man lying on his deathbed would trade his last dollar for just one more day.
  • Stuff is temporary, but memories last a lifetime.
  • Stress is not bad – just make sure you’re stressing about things that matter.
  • Do what you love.
  • Seek validation from within, never from without.
  • Prepare meals with fresh ingredients with your loved ones, and make the kitchen island the epicenter of conversation, discovery, education and celebration in your home.
  • Understand how small and inconsequential you are in the arc of human history, but appreciate how big of an impact you can make on your family and community.
  • Don’t fall victim to false cultural pressures.
  • Remember what the American Dream is really about.
  • Get outside of your own head once in awhile and you’ll realize that the world is a pretty remarkable place.
  • Self-indulgence is not the path to self-actualization.
  • A walk in the woods solves most problems.
  • If something is bothering you, change it.
  • If someone is bothering you, discuss it.
  • Celebrate the triumphs of others.
  • Every stumble is a step forward in your journey.
  • Always be kind.
  • Worry only about things that are in your control.
  • Friendship and love can only be earned, never bought.
  • Happiness and pleasure most often derive from discipline and restraint.
  • Moderation over excess.

As the Declaration of Independence states, Americans have no right to happiness itself, but we do have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

Too often we give up the pursuit because what we want, what will make us happy and content, seems too hard, too far-fetched and too unconventional. But, as Jefferson knew when he enshrined “pursuit of happiness” as a fundamental right, happiness – like freedom – does not come easily. It takes work. It takes mindfulness. It takes confidence to pursue your true self. You must first know who you want to be, before you can truly live free. {tweet that}

LifeJay Harrington