Saturday, January 17, 2009

Within the boundary of my freedom

'Tis nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. William Shakespeare
In an attempt to measure happiness, Dr. Dan Gilbert and his team of associates provided six university students with the option of keeping one of two photos they had taken and mounted in beautiful frames. Half the students could choose, and have four days to change their minds and take the other one. The other half chose and could never change their minds.

Intuitively, we think the group that had the option of changing their choice would be happiest. I can think about it for a few days, and change if I want. The option to change would, supposedly, made me happier.

In fact, the group who had no choice to change their choice, were happiest with the choice they made.

Gilbert goes on to explain why having the choice to change our mind makes people miserable.
  1. We have regret and anticipated regret in the choice we made and the choice we didn't make.
  2. We keep weighing the opportunity cost of changing our mind, or what would have happened had we made the other choice.
  3. Our expectations escalate as we consider the options -- which choice will make me happiest?
  4. We blame themselves for not making the right choice if we are not happy with the choice we made -- I should have chosen the other photo. I would have been happier.

Ultimately, we rationalize our choice and live with it when we don't have the option to change our minds.

It's no wonder we can be so unhappy with the choices we make in life!

Which got me thinking about the choice to be 'happy'. To have a positive outlook. To see 'the brighter side of life'.

Living the life of my dreams is predicated upon the belief that -- I know what the life of my dreams looks like. It's the life I'm living right now, satisfied that I am living my most in this moment, being my most, right now.

When I spend too much time thinking about what is my most, I fall into cognitive dissonance, that state of angst ridden being where my choices contradict my actions as I stand paralysed in indecision, wondering what I should be doing.

In life, some things are better than others. We always have choice. But, too much choice can make us miserable.

When I consider living the life of my dreams, I accept that what I am doing right now, is exactly what I need/want to be doing right now. If I didn't, I'd have to think about the 'other' things I could be doing right now - and thus, feel the dissatisfaction with what I am doing as I try to figure out what other things I could be doing -- and becoming angst ridden over making a choice to do one of them. Oh what a tangled web we weave!

When I consider the statement, I can be anything I want to be -- I need to put boundaries on what I can be if I want to ensure I don't become paralyzed with the fear of what choice do I make? What do I want to be?

I want to be free, doesn't mean living a life free of moral responsibility, lawful living and justice. It means, the freedom mans to own my own destiny -- within moral reason and lawfulness. To act in accordance with my values, beliefs, principles -- within the context of the society in which I live, its laws and social mores.

Whew! That's a whole lot of constraints on freedom.

But, just as Gilbert proved in his experiment on synthetic happiness, putting boundaries on my freedom actually does make me happier. As he says, we should have preferences, we all need boundaries. When our ambition is bounded, we work joyfully. When it is unbounded, we lie and cheat and manipulate to get what we want. When are fear is bounded, we are prudent, cautious, thoughtful. When fear is unbounded, we are reckless and cowardly.

The question is: Are you making yourself unhappy thinking about the choice you should have made, versus living with the choice you did make? Are you using your unhappiness with the choice you made as the excuse that keeps you paralysed in fear of changing your mind?


i am storm. said...

very thought provoking.
i understand how the group who had to make a decision was happier.
it follows that if you make a decision you are happier as you then have a path to follow.
as well, the idea of boundaries is interesting.
i compare it to starting a new business with a business plan versus without.
the business plan defines your boundaries.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Good point storm -- the business plan gives the map. We limit our choices to the plan -- which keeps us feeling more balanced.


Thanks for sharing. And thanks for always adding value to my blog.