Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The enviable state of No Choice

The night we arrived in Barrington, we were greeted with a wonderful dinner and almost my whole family- Mom and Tom (stepdad), Dad and Silvia (stepmom) and Alexa and Dylan (brother and sister - technically 'half' but spiritually whole.)

The fact that my mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad actually get along (and well) is usually a mind-trip for people. But it's a luxury for us. For sure. One big, extended happy family. It wasn't always like that, of course. We all worked hard to get here, to be sure. I guess you could say that my family background was my training for turning something generally considered to be undesirable or a legitimate reason for estrangement in many cases into a much better thing. The ultimate lemons into lemonade.

Anyway, the point is that we had a great dinner and wonderful conversation! One of the points my mom made really struck me.

She said that the beauty of our situation is we have no choice.
"Your situation is enviable because you have no money, no choice."
"We have too many choices," she said. "And when you have too many choices, you end up doing nothing."
Bob referenced the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

Though I haven't read his book (Bob has) I have watched Barry Schwartz' TED talk and it's really fascinating. It's 19 minutes long but well worth the time. His premise is that our unhappiness is rooted in the abundance of choice.
"The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose." - Barry Schwartz (TED Talk)
It is true that we have fewer options available to us certainly from a financial perspective and we are feeling freer and happier than ever. Perhaps it is because we have fewer options and it's therefore easier to feel happy- the Paradox of Choice. Or perhaps it's because we have finally taken the reins in our lives and are paving a future of our own design vs. being hamsters on an endless wheel.

Either way, there is a beauty to our situation like Mom said. I completely get it. And am so grateful for this unlikely opportunity.

All those times I fantasized about selling everything and just seeing what happens... well, we finally did it. Not on a whim, but because we were forced. We really had no choice. Would we have done it without HAVING to do it? Probably, most likely, almost certainly not. As much as we fantasized about living as vagabonds, we never did it before... when the choice was there.

Have any of you read The Paradox of Choice? What are your thoughts on this?

What is the answer? Barry Schwartz suggests the answer is fewer choices. But is that even possible? In the face of 'too many choices' how do you powerfully choose any one thing? My thought is that you just do. What about you?

Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice - Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. TED Ideas Worth Spreading

TOMORROW'S post will be a guest post from none other than my MOM on this subject and how it relates to her life.

Our new view:


Kim Hooper said...

I agree with your mom wholeheartedly. I've thought about this concept of choice pretty frequently in the past several years. The times I've been most alive are when my options are limited and I am "forced" to go head-on into a situation. When I have too many options, I feel pretty paralyzed. I always think about our grocery stores and how we have about 18 versions of spaghetti sauce. We are a culture with so many (TOO MANY) choices. There is freedom (aka liberated brain space) when things are narrowed down for us. You guys have narrowed down your life, in a way that is very freeing (although scary at times, I'm sure). It allows you to focus better and zero in on what you really want. That's why I have nothing but positive thoughts for your future. But, yes, your choices will soon start to multiply, I'm sure ;)

NoHoJax said...

Great post, as per usual. I agree - it sometimes seems enticing to have all the money or time in the world, but our creativity is really tested and developed when we have to work with constraints.

What a beautiful green view.

Joel Kelderman said...

I have read some Barry Schwartz (His Schwartz is as big as mine). He wrote an article in Scientific America years ago that I like. He groups people into maximizers (those who always try to make the best possible choice) and satisficers (people who aim for "good enough" whether or not better choices exist.) As you might suspect satisficers are much happier people. Americans are conditioned to value choice above everything. Advertising that bombards us, exists soley to make us discontented with what we have or don't have. Not only does this condition us to be maximizers it causes us to value the very thing that creates discontent. Man, we are goofy creatures. The key is to change your thinking so that consumption has less psychological energy both positive and negative.

Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

Joel, I'm posting that link you sent to the article. Here it is:

I'm looking forward to reading it. And thanks!
I agree.... we are "goofy creatures"!

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