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Want to be happy? Settle for less.

November 28, 2015
Turns out living simply and settling for ‘good enough’ is a sure fire way to be happy. Barry Schwartz in his popular TED talk on the paradox of choice suggests that we've been ingrained with the idea that the way to be happy is to maximize our freedom. And the way that we maximize our freedom, we presume, is to maximize our choices. But as Schwartz demonstrates, not only are we not happier when we have too much choice; we also experience decision paralysis and diminished satisfaction.  Why? Because too many choices makes us question our decisions, sets our expectations too high, and the result is we blame ourselves for our mistakes (as pointed out in this article.)  It also interestingly explains why New Yorkers despite their plethora of choice have a hard time finding a spouse.  As Barry Schwartz puts it, ‘the key to happiness is to have low expectations’. You may chuckle at this thought as I did,  but in a sense I think this is what Pope Francis is getting at when he reminds us to live simply.  Living simply means that we are choosing to limit ourselves so that we can be truly happy and ultimately free.
Here’s what I’m saying,  there’s this Franciscan mission I once visited, I remember the place because the house echoed when you entered it and I felt that I could literally count all the objects inside  the place and, except for some flowers next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, there was nothing that wasn't essential. Now, these Franciscans didn't have much choice (in the conventional sense) but  I’d say that they were probably the happiest people I've ever met.
Now there’s a host of reasons for their joy, but I believe part of the secret to their happiness lies in the simplicity of their lives. Their radical commitment to live in solidarity with the poor means that there are a host of decisions that they’ll never have to make, and overall they will be more satisfied with what they do have.  And since every day is lived with a reliance on Divine Providence it allows them to experience genuine delight more frequently because they’re not expecting everything to be, well, perfect all the time. When was the last time you were genuinely delighted? It was probably when you weren't expecting anything at all.
And this leads me to how we view limitations. There’s an insight I had watching the movie Gravity. Our entire lives we think of the law of gravity as something that needs to be overcome; gravity is that force that keeps you down, prevents you from getting to the stars! But, what I came to realize through the course of that movie was that no, gravity is really, really good. In fact, its  amazing -   because its what keeps you from flying off into space, its what make life on earth possible, and what makes flight enjoyable!  Limitations allow us to flourish.  So all this to say that when Pope Francis calls us to live simply, he’s  actually inviting us to be happy. To experience true abiding happiness.  And that, my friends, has got to  be worth a try.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries
Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.
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