Recently I watched a video on Ted.com. For those of you not familiar with it, this is a website with a wonderful collection of videos on many topics by really good and fascinating speakers. This particular video is on “Paradox of Choices”. Please see the link below. I encourage all readers to take a look at this video: http://blog.ted.com/2006/09/26/paradox_of_choi/
The speaker in this video identifies that too many choices seem to offer a perception of freedom and affluence. But in the end, too many of available choices lead to paralysis or indecision; less satisfaction. Imagined alternatives lead to imagined regrets; Escalation of expectations leads to less satisfaction; and finally blaming oneself as the choices lead to the self as the decision maker and hence the source of poor decision! As an example, the speaker describes his experience in buying a pair of jeans, which can be roughly summarized as follows: “I am used to wearing jeans and I love jeans. But, recently when I walked into the store, I saw an overwhelming range of options, to choose from. All I wanted was just one pair of jeans that fits me well. After an hour of trying out many jeans, I walked out wearing one that best fitted me. But, in the end I was not happy, because I am now aware of all other options that I have left behind!”
There is a very good book titled: “The Price of Privilege” by Dr. Madeline Levine. http://www.amazon.com/Price-Privilege-Advantage-Generation-Disconnected/dp/006059585X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1307794551&sr=1-1
Following is an excerpt from a review article on this book:
Wandering among suburban estates, sports clubs and prep schools are overlooked children of a perplexed generation. Their lives overflow with abundance and praise, yet ironically, the mask of apparent health and success may hide a gloomy world of emptiness, anxiety and anger. Strangely, argues Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist practicing in Marin County, California, the nation’s latest group of at-risk kids comes from affluent, well-educated families. Despite advantages, these children experience disproportionately high rates of clinical depression, substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders and self-destructive (even self-mutilating) behaviors, according to various studies. ….. One may brush off these youngsters as overindulged products of wealthy, narcissistic parents. But Levine says many of these kids are really ill. They suffer from a weak sense of self, often struggling to fill inner emptiness with objects and praise. Too often they know something is wrong and grope desperately for help yet fail to escape a downward spiral. Could it be, Levine wonders, that privilege, high expectations, competitive pressure and parental over-involvement yield toxic rather than protective effects? Levine explores such issues as social isolation, the fine line between parental under-involvement and over-indulgence, and the perverse role of money and material goods in creating false promises of fulfillment. Yearning for outward approval, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the delusion that wealth causes happiness. In many cases, a rude awakening occurs only after many years of anxiety and depression. ……. Levine emphasizes the importance of discipline, monitoring and limit setting as ways to encourage kids to construct healthy “inner” homes. More important, parents must “stand on their own two feet” before expecting their children to stand on theirs—noting that many parents scold their children for social behaviors that they themselves cannot manage, such as ….. Parents must strive to get their own inner homes in order before they can expect kids to straighten out theirs.
If you reflect on the above two examples, we see the following situations: Adults are not happy, because of the affluence and the choices it presents, which leads to the burden of decision making and the after effects of second guessing on such decisions and the feeling of lost opportunities! Children are not happy, since abundance of choices does not force them to confront the hard realities of life and cope with them directly and with effectiveness. Does that imply that every one should live in poverty and with limited or less than required means, to lead a cheerful and contended life? Not really!
The sense of joy and inner contentment has nothing to do with the material choices we have, affluence we are blessed with or lack of affluence. All of us – young and old, rich and poor, affluent with choices and disadvantaged with limited or no choices, children and their parents – live in a parallel set of two worlds: The world of material objects, the world of duality. It is a world of more or less choices, enjoyment and lack there of, satisfaction or absence of it, pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, etc. Then there is the spiritual world, the world of reasoning, analysis and contemplation, where the questions of “what, how and why?” resonate, a world of constant inquiry which finds answers that limit the disparity between the dualities, strikes a balance that makes life proceed like a well oiled machine, well tuned musical instrument or well balanced human being!
It is the education and practice on the spiritual aspects of life that limits the “weak sense of self, often struggling to fill inner emptiness with objects and praise, social isolation, the fine line between parental under-involvement and over-indulgence, and the perverse role of money and material goods in creating false promises of fulfillment, yearning for outward approval”, etc. mentioned above. It is also this training and practice in the world of inner inquiry, reasoning and logic – the spiritual world – that clarifies “the importance of discipline, monitoring and limit setting as ways to encourage kids to construct healthy “inner” homes; parents ability to “stand on their own two feet” before expecting their children to stand on theirs; Parents ability to strive to get their own inner homes in order before they can expect kids to straighten out theirs”.
The material world is not the sole possession of the many at the exclusion of the few who are spiritual in their outlook. The spiritual world is not the pride possession of the few who live a life of ascetics or monastic order. In my view this is the false choice, which is at the root of all the paradox of choices described above. Each of us is materialistic and spiritual at the same time. The more you strengthen the spiritual content of your life, the more you will find the beauty and joy of the benefits of choices at hand in the material or the cognitive world. The stronger the spiritual core of the parents, greater will be their effectiveness in mentoring and guiding their children or the next generation.
It is our hope that the essays in this blog on Spirituality in Practice help to shape your inner core – the ability for internal reflection to frame your choices and their limits, to reason and find answers – so that you can enjoy to the fullest on all the choices you are blessed with in the material world (i.e) the world of choices for your jeans or options in parenting and mentoring your children or guiding the younger generation in your care.
Sheena Iyengar on TED.com “Art of Choosing” along the same lines is an interesting presentation