The Paradox of Freedom and Happiness: Exploring the Complexities of Human Existence

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Sep 08, 2023

5 min read


The Paradox of Freedom and Happiness: Exploring the Complexities of Human Existence


In the pursuit of a fulfilling life, two fundamental concepts often arise: freedom and happiness. These concepts, although distinct, are intertwined in the intricate tapestry of human existence. The notion of freedom encompasses the ability to act according to one's desires and to be free from constraints, oppression, and alienation. On the other hand, happiness is often regarded as the ultimate goal, a state of complete satisfaction and harmony. In this article, we will explore the connections between freedom and happiness, delving into philosophical perspectives and examining their implications for our understanding of human nature.

The Paradox of Absolute Freedom:

The concept of absolute freedom presents a philosophical conundrum. To conceive human freedom as absolute is to attribute it as the essence of our being, suggesting that individuals transcend the laws of nature and determine their own existence. However, this perspective necessitates a dualistic view, separating the mind or soul from the physical body. Such a dualism, reminiscent of Plato's philosophy, devalues the corporeal in favor of the spiritual. It raises questions about the compatibility of absolute freedom with the deterministic forces of the natural world.

The Illusion of Free Will:

While some philosophers argue that absolute freedom can be experienced and known without proof, others, like Spinoza, question the illusion of free will. They argue that our choices may be influenced by causes beyond our conscious awareness, making it difficult to ascertain the true extent of our freedom. Additionally, the influence of external factors and societal norms further complicates the notion of individual freedom. Humans are not impervious to such influences; rather, they are conditioned and determined by various external factors, making freedom a precarious and uncertain conquest.

The Interplay between Freedom and Law:

At first glance, freedom and constraint appear to be incompatible, with adherence to rules and social norms seemingly limiting one's liberty. However, the relationship between freedom and law is more nuanced. In an organized society governed by laws, individuals often experience greater freedom. Political freedom, for instance, is only possible when it is accompanied by legal limitations. By abiding by the laws established through democratic means, individuals can coexist and safeguard their freedoms. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously stated, "obedience to a self-imposed law is freedom." Acting with determination and purpose is a testament to true freedom, rather than succumbing to the whims of momentary desires.

The Pursuit of Happiness:

Aristotle referred to happiness as the ultimate goal of human aspirations. However, defining happiness as complete satisfaction poses challenges. Can human existence truly avoid experiencing moments of unhappiness? Moreover, given the often contradictory and incongruous nature of our desires, is it feasible for all our desires to be simultaneously fulfilled? Happiness is commonly understood as a lasting state of fulfillment, characterized by the harmony between oneself and the world. To construct a notion of attainable human happiness, ancient wisdom traditions such as Epicureanism and Stoicism emphasize the importance of moderating desires and focusing on what is within our control.

Epicureanism and Stoicism: The Pursuit of Well-directed Desires:

Epicureanism advocates for limiting our efforts to satisfying natural and necessary desires, as they are limited and their fulfillment is uncomplicated. The pursuit of extravagant and unnecessary desires is discouraged. Stoicism, on the other hand, encourages individuals to desire only what is within their control, relinquishing desires dependent on external factors. For Stoics, happiness lies in recognizing that pleasure is a natural impulse for the preservation of life, rather than the ultimate goal. Contemporary philosophers, such as Henri Bergson, stress the importance of joy derived from the realization of our potential and the increase in self-empowerment.

The Collective Dimension of Happiness:

While personal happiness is significant, the pursuit of happiness extends beyond individual realms. Alain argues that it is a duty to seek happiness for oneself, but it also involves actively caring for the happiness of others. Happiness, therefore, becomes a political matter, requiring collective structures of solidarity, primarily through the intervention of the state, to address social inequalities that perpetuate widespread suffering and unhappiness.

The Relationship between Thinking and Happiness:

A thought-provoking question arises: should one abstain from thinking to achieve happiness? This query challenges the assumption that individuals should avoid contemplating their own predicaments and the potential misery associated with it. Does thinking truly hinder happiness, or can it bring profound joy? Can one truly be happy by negating their capacity for critical thinking? Ultimately, does thinking impede or enhance happiness?


The interplay between freedom and happiness reveals the complexities of human existence. While absolute freedom may be elusive, the pursuit of freedom and happiness remains a fundamental aspect of our lives. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to navigate this intricate relationship:

  • 1. Embrace self-awareness: Reflect on the influences and constraints that shape your desires and choices. Understand that true freedom lies in conscious decision-making rather than subconscious submission to external forces.
  • 2. Cultivate moderation: Strive to strike a balance between desires and their fulfillment. Practice discernment in prioritizing natural and necessary desires, allowing for a more sustainable and attainable form of happiness.
  • 3. Promote collective well-being: Recognize that true happiness extends beyond individual realms. Advocate for social justice and equality, as they are fundamental prerequisites for the happiness of all.

By embracing these insights and actively engaging with the complexities of freedom and happiness, we can navigate the intricate terrain of human existence and strive for a more fulfilling and harmonious life.

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