Out of all the great TED talks that exist, Barry Schwartz’s is easily the best. He talks about what he calls The Paradox of Choice. I’ve gone back to it countless times for countless reasons, but my favorite part is when he shows this comic:
Ask anyone how they feel about their life from ten years ago, and they’ll likely tell you that “those were simpler times.” Less to worry about, more to enjoy. Somehow, everything was easier. Today, it’s all complicated. Always.
“Everything was better back when everything was worse.”
It’s more than a good chuckle. So simple, yet so instinctively true. But why does our gut want to agree so badly when we hear this? Barry explains:
“The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise.
Nowadays, the world we live in — we affluent, industrialized citizens, with perfection the expectation — the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be.
You will never be pleasantly surprised, because your expectations, my expectations, have gone through the roof.
The secret to happiness — this is what you all came for — the secret to happiness is:
I turned 28 a few days ago. I thought about what lessons I’ve learned so far in life. Barry’s is one that’s stuck with me throughout the years. What’s changed since I first heard it, however, is how I’m trying to live it. There’s a twist to it.
“Low expectations” sounds daunting. Shouldn’t we hope for good things? Optimism being a self-fulfilling prophecy and all.
Sure, it helps to dampen your excitement before any event whose outcome you don’t control, like a presentation, job interview, or publishing an article, but if you demand so little of life that you don’t even attempt any of these, you’ll soon walk around with a perma-long face. Most of us aren’t saints…