Property and the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — The three principals at the heart of the U.S. Declaration of Independence are iconic.

But the original document, the Declaration of Colonial Rights, didn’t mention “the pursuit of Happiness.” It mentioned “property” — as in, “Life, Liberty and Property.”

Political philosopher John Locke is credited with coining this phrase in 1689 when he wrote an essay about “life, liberty … and the possession of outward things.

Although the Declaration of Independence traded “property” for “happiness,” the follow-up forms focus on ownership. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that as long as you don’t break the law, you won’t lose your “life, liberty or property.”

Our neighbors to the north agree. The Canadian Bill of Rights, written in 1960, guarantees “life, liberty and … enjoyment of property,” although the Canadian Charter of Rights, written in 1982, dropped the “property” reference.

Property = Freedom

Why the focus on property? We can assume John Locke wasn’t flipping houses or trying to get his kitchen remodel showcased on HGTV.

The focus on property goes beyond buying Birkenstocks and iPads. The founders realized that “property” — the right to be an owner — is virtually synonymous with freedom. If you own things, you’re free; if you’re forced to borrow, you’re not. Perhaps that’s why they say possession is 9/10ths of the law.

Imagine you live in a society where you lack the right to own property: Perhaps you’re a woman in a tribal, patriarchal society in which inheritance is passed only from fathers to sons. Without the right to own possessions, you’d have to ask your father or husband for permission to do everything: to buy clothes, to go to the doctor, to take a class. You couldn’t open a bank account. You couldn’t leave an abusive relationship.

Without property — without possession — you’d be stuck.

How Can I Become Free?

People who come out of debt often describe themselves as “free.” They’re no longer living on borrowed money. They own their possessions.

But even people with zero debt are forced to work — often long hours at jobs they despise — to cover their basic living expenses. Without a job, they’d slide right back into debt.

That’s why I often write about how the only way to be free is to become the master of your time. If you work because you choose to, you’re free. If you work because you need to, you’re not.

Financial Freedom: the freedom to never be forced to work for money. You might choose to work for pleasure or fulfillment, but you’re never forced to work for money.

Ultimately, this isn’t a blog about money. This is a blog about freedom. To become free, you must:

  1. Define freedom for yourself
  2. Create a goal
  3. Develop a specific plan
  4. Measure your progress
  5. Persist

In the coming months, I’ll be putting together material to help people develop a path to freedom. My material will be based on three principals: everything I say must be specific, actionable and measurable. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here are some of my best posts related to creating freedom:

Photo courtesy PreparednessPro.


  1. says

    Congrats on joining the Challenge. I, too, will be working hard throughout the remainder of the year. I like your thoughts on freedom. I do want to be master of my time. Financial freedom is having enough to cover basic living expenses with minimal effort through interest, dividends, business profits, or rents.

  2. says

    Excellent article Paula – the right to your own property, and consequently the right to your own person, is the bedrock of a free society. Sad to see that in the US this essential right continues to be steadily eroded.

  3. says

    Owning is freedom… and I never would have thought about that until this week. Today we get to hand SCB’s family the money he borrowed from them… and to be honest, when he first moved out here and started working he didn’t think he’s be able to pay it back before we were planning to get married… but he did… and the freedom that comes from not owing anyone, anything… is sensational…

    Its freedom, happiness, and the ability to breathe all on its own.

  4. says

    @SCG — Congratulations on being able to pay the money back earlier than expected!! You must feel so exhilarated!

    @cashflowmantra – Financial freedom really is hard! Investing for dividends or for rental payments is the ultimate delayed-gratification. I’m often floored when I stop to think about what “30 years” truly means (as in, “this rental property will be paid off in 30 years … gee, wait a second, 30 years?!?!”)

    @Barb – I’m thinking of making “path to freedom” become my first e-book … or maybe a video series … we’ll see!

    @101Centavos – I feel like we’re pretty lucky to be in the US compared to so many other repressive nations around the world where freedom is REALLY limited.

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