Today has been the first day of MAPP´s second onsite learning period – and actually, every student did in fact get a deck of cards as a gift from Barry Schwartz, who is this weekend´s guest lecturer. It was created by Brooke Allen and is supposed to help us to create a “robust Philosophy of Life” by answering 54 questions on life, meaning, and sense of purpose. I have yet to try them out – but I will let you know how it all worked out.
As before, I do feel I´m not yet ready to write on what we´ve learned today. I´m still in the process of digesting everything that has been said. Instead, I´m going to build on a recent article that summarizes the most important ideas from Schwartz´s book ‘The Paradox of Choice’. In that post, I described why Schwartz believes that having too many choices can make us miserable.
The question is: is that really true? After all, we live in a free market economy and that´s supposed to make us happier than experiencing lots of constraints, e.g., like it used to be in most (former) communist countries. A powerful piece of evidence comes from the Amish people, a religious community with German heritage of about 250.000 people that pursue a simple, non-materialistic lifestyle – basically they ignore all kinds of modern comforts like cars, telephones, and electricity in general. While this may sound not too inviting there may be some interesting upsides this kind of lifestyle. Notably, the depression rate of the Amish is only a fraction of the overall U.S. population. One explanation for this might be the very close social ties that the Amish are embedded in. But yet another hypothesis can be drawn from the work of Schwartz: the Amish only have to make a fraction of the choices that we have to make in our lives. They do not have to worry about which clothes to wear because basically there is a rule. The do not have to worry about which car to buy because it is simply not allowed to own a car. In most orders, it´s not allowed to maintain a website – and so on.
At the end of the day, that may not seem very attractive to most ‘modern’ people. Good news is: we do not have to copy them. But we should be aware of the principle behind those actions: choosing not choose can be a potent way of improving our lives. Setting rules, standards, and default modes is be a powerful trajectory towards increased mental health.
How does this relate to your life?