Is There Such a Thing as “Too Much Freedom”?

Idahosa Ness
3 min readAug 9, 2019

If you drew a graph showing the relationship between Freedom and Suffering, how would it look?

I’ve been posing this question to people recently, and most of the time I get a response like this:

This graph says that suffering always decreases the freer you become, which makes intuitive sense.

If you work a 9–5 job and feel suffocated by the hours, you’d probably suffer less if you had more scheduling freedom.

If you don’t make enough money to live comfortably, you’d probably suffer less if you had more financial freedom.

But after a certain point, the returns on freedom start to diminish.

For example, if you make less than $20k a year, adding $100k to your yearly earnings can be positively transformative. But if you make $20 million dollars, another $100k in the bank wouldn’t mean as much to you.

So the relationship between freedom and suffering might be better explained with a graph like this:

This graph still holds that suffering goes down when freedom goes up, but only up to a certain point. After that, freedom has little to no effect on suffering.

But could more freedom ever lead to more suffering?

Our culture tends to glorify freedom. So much so that many people act as if the purpose of life is to accumulate as much freedom as possible.

I used to be one of those people.

That’s why, as soon as I graduated university, I committed to starting my own location-independent business. More than anything, I wanted the freedom to travel anywhere I wanted, experience anything I wanted, and do anything I wanted.

After years of striving, I finally realized my dream…but it turned out to be a nightmare.

Because I had the freedom to wake up whenever, I slept in until the late afternoon most days.

Because I had the freedom to work whenever, I wasted countless hours on youtube and facebook.

I wanted to be as free as a fish in the ocean. It wasn’t until I reached open waters that I realized I couldn’t swim.

But by then it was already too late; I was drowning.

That’s why I believe the graph of freedom vs. suffering looks more like this.

This graph shows that after a certain point, more freedom can actually lead to more suffering.

In other words, there is such a thing as too much freedom.

You might not suffer from oversleep, media addiction, and procrastination the way I did, but I imagine there is some area in your life where the overwhelming number of choices has left you paralyzed.

And I’m not just talking about trivial things like choosing which of a hundred brands of soap to buy at the supermarket, or which of the hundreds of meal options to eat for lunch today.

Freedom is what enables your highest order of suffering.

In the deepest part of your being, you have a sense of who you could become.

But whenever you try to move toward self-actualization, some mysterious force holds you back.

Sometimes you resist the force, but most of the time you give in to it, and you give up.

But what if you no longer had the FREEDOM to give up?

What if your worst self became totally subordinate to your best self?

What if you had no other option but to confront your fears, overcome your weaknesses and realize your fullest potential?

Would that be worth the sacrifice?