For such a high maintenance guy, I live a fairly low maintenance lifestyle. Those who know me can attest to my unwavering, or what some may call stubborn, fixation with routine. I eat oatmeal for breakfast and peanut butter for lunch every day of the week. I’ve had the same hairstyle since I was six, and I’ve been wearing the same brand of jeans for over the 40 years. To an outsider my life may look boring, predictable, and small, but allow me to let you in on a little secret. It’s this predictability that makes me the happiest me I can be.
One would think that the more choices we have, the happier we would be, but that is simply not the case, and lots of empirical evidence supports that claim. There is a direct correlation between the number of choices we have and the expectation we assign to how happy we should be with our eventual selection. Don’t believe me? I’ll share a little story with you to show you what I mean.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been wearing the same brand of jeans for most of my life. When I was a teenager, I was only faced with a few simple decisions when I went to the mall to pick up a new pair of Levis; would I get them in black, blue, or possibly corduroy? Once I made my decision, I was happy and I knew they would fit me fine. A few years later, the process became a little more stressful with the introduction of acid-wash jeans, but thankfully I bucked the trend, so my decision making process remained relatively stress free. Fast forward ten years and all hell broke loose. Now, my trip to the mall means selecting the colour is the least of my worries, as I am now faced with deciding among boot-cut, skinny-fit, button-fly, original (which I swear is not the “original” jeans I wore in high school), 501s, 504s, 514s, …. You get the picture. Now, whenever I leave the mall with a new pair of jeans, I don't feel as satisfied with my purchase because I always think there might have been a better fitting pair out there, but I was just too frustrated to try any more styles on.
When it comes to making choices, I want fewer not more. If I have to spend the majority of my life wading through an endless array of choices, then I am not really free, but rather debilitated by self-doubt. One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned was the simple slogan that greats us in every AA meeting, “Keep it Simple”. I get a lot of strength from drawing on this practice in so many facets of my life. The way I’ve been able to hone this practice is by placing artificial constraints on my choices by blocking out other options that might only lead to increased anxiety. I didn’t realize it at the time, but 27 years ago when I met my now wife, I did just that. I allowed myself to fall in love, and I didn’t weigh myself down by entertaining that there was someone more suited to me somewhere out there. You see, I didn’t settle; I allowed myself to be in the moment and acknowledge how amazing this person was standing in front of me. I may just be naive, but I believe that is why many marriages fail. We allow ourselves to be lured into the belief that something better is out there, and become blind to the beauty that the universe has already put before us.
The Dalai Lama said: “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, Oh yes - I already have everything that I really need.” So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that as many of the people around me are perpetually trying to make their world bigger, and give themselves access to greater and more choices, I’m striving to make my life a little simpler, my choices fewer but more meaningful. It feels like I’m swimming against the current most days, but when I do stay present and acknowledge how great my life is, I do feel more grateful and content that the choices I make are what make me the best me I can be.