Choice and Sacrifice
Do Happy Be Happy Newsletter #5
In last month’s newsletter, we explored some of the ideas of Viktor Frankl and, in particular, his thoughts on the importance of finding meaning in our lives.
Research has demonstrated that if we can find meaning in what we are doing and have a clearly defined set of personal values, we can live by, we will be happier.
Knowing how we want to behave in any situation is directly influenced by our values and attitudes. If we understand ourselves well enough to know these, then our decision-making will be a little bit easier.
Finding meaning in what we do may seem a little bit more challenging at times. However, surely this will be guided by our values and attitudes.
I invite you to read my Clear Mind blog of 19th August to explore this a little more.
Some people with an honest and congruent faith find their lives filled with value, purpose, and meaning. I say "some people" since we have probably all met those who wear their faith like a badge and rarely "walk their talk".
But I digress.
I wanted to ask you to consider the challenge of "choice" and "sacrifice" this month.
It is obvious that in most cases, making one choice negates the other.
I am reminded of the late 1960s Man From UNCLE episode (or perhaps film) in which the Villan, amongst other diabolical aims, wanted to experience everything in life. Even as a teen, I remember thinking such an ambition was unattainable. I reasoned that even if this dastardly villain achieved most of his goals, there would be at least one thing he could never experience; the experience of innocence, or perhaps failure!
If I make a decision, a choice to work to become a great chef, then, if serious, I need to devote time, effort, and resources to my goal. Thus my path to culinary excellence potentially precludes my becoming an excellent musician, athlete, artist, writer...
Having obtained "mastery", I may be free to follow another path, but by the time that happens, there will be greater options and thus choices to make.
It's not rocket science, is it?
If my life is fulfilled by my epicurean exploits, then I will de be doing happiness.
However, it's rarely that simple for many.
We work to obtain life's necessities, it becomes a chore. So much so that we feel that we are living to work rather than working to live.
Where is the happiness in that?
Could it be, perhaps, that it can be derived from being able to provide the chosen necessities?
Could it be from the possibility that having those necessities allows some time for engaging in something else that brings meaning?
Between working and sleeping, there may be moments in which other choices can be made.
If you choose to watch the latest reality TV show, then you sacrifice the time in which to do something different.
If you choose to work as much as you can to acquire stuff that becomes a necessity, you sacrifice the time you could be spending developing deeper relationships.
There is no judgment here; just raising the question.
Few people ever have an abundance of choice of occupation. But what matters is that we have some choice, that we are not absolutely tied to a job which has been chosen for us, and that if one position becomes intolerable, or if we set our heart on another, there is always a way for the able, at some sacrifice, to achieve his goal. Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge that no effort of ours can change them, and even if we should never have the strength of mind to make the necessary sacrifice, the knowledge that we could escape if we only strove hard enough makes many otherwise intolerable positions bearable. — Friedrich Hayek
The unhappiest people are those who "want it all".
The Man from UNCLE villain sought to have every experience but failed to recognize the impossibility of his quest. It transpired, for him, that in reality, there was little or no joy in the journey either.
It was amazing to think that she'd always had it wrong, imagining that they were the weak ones, the ones who took their chance. No. The weakest are those who stay put and call it sacrifice, call it not having a choice. — Sunjeev Sahota
While teaching full-time, I encountered several students who bemoaned their time at school. They would not engage in school activities and sit eagerly waiting for the end-of-day bell to ring.
I would challenge them by suggesting that since they had "chosen" to come to school, it made no sense to sit longing for the end of the day.
They, in turn, argued that they had no choice other than to be in school.
I would point out that they had choices.
They could "bunk off", pretend to be ill: could skip lessons. There were numerous choices available to them. The reality was that they didn't care for the consequences of those other choices. They were taking a path of least resistance and then moaning about it.
Every choice results in some kind of sacrifice and consequence.
The question remains then if this is true, how can we benefit and grow from the choices we make?
He remembered the darkness and despair she'd suffered during her long years as a prisoner, but he also recalled the deep, unquenchable joy she took from the world around her; and he knew that given the choice, Wilamena would suffer all she had and more rather than sacrifice one day of being alive.
It was just as his father had said. She chose life, all of it. — John J. Stephens
Economists call the choice-sacrifice dynamic, opportunity cost.
An opportunity cost is when we buy a bicycle rather than a snowboard, the snowboard is the opportunity cost of our decision.
Economics has been called the dismal science because it studies the most fundamental of all problems, scarcity. Because of scarcity, we all face the dismal reality that there are limits to what we can do. No matter how productive we become, we can never accomplish and enjoy as much as we would like. The only thing we can do without limit is desire more. Because of scarcity, every time we do one thing, we necessarily have to forgo doing something else desirable. So there is an opportunity cost to everything we do, and that cost is expressed in terms of the most valuable alternative that is sacrificed…. Dwight Lee
So how do you make choices that will lead to happiness?
It's not that simple.
The results of six studies reveal that what happiness means varies, and choices reflect those differences.
In some cases, happiness is defined as feeling excited, and in other cases, happiness is defined as feeling calm. The type of happiness pursued is determined by one’s temporal focus, such that individuals tend to choose more exciting options when focused on the future and more calming options when focused on the present moment. Cassie Mogilner, et al. Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 39, Issue 2, 1 August 2012
More recent research reminds us that...
"happiness tends to be closely related to interpersonal connectedness and individuals experiences within shared relationships" [in several countries] - Koohborfardhaghighi, et al. Influence of Freedom of Choice on Happiness. IZA Discussion Paper No. 15315, May 2022 Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4118216
All of which suggest that your happiness is defined by your focus and your willingness to engage in experiences.
We can also be reminded of two key ideas.
1: Some aspects of life are outside of our immediate control or influence.
2: In terms of material things, human beings tend to want more.
In the first case, perhaps, rather than moaning about the state of the world, the government or the economy, we would best profit from being creative in dealing with the effects these things have on us.
You can’t be creative when you’re choosing to worry about everything.
The second case requires us to look honestly at the things we say we need. Some things are givens; food, clothing, shelter, and belonging. Other things are more debatable.
Having the latest widescreen TV may be a desire, a want, but is it a need?
More relevantly, we can ask what is driving that need.
Is it we believe we will not be fulfilled unless we have one?
If that’s the case, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves some deeper questions.
The bottom line.
Recognises the choices you are making.
Consider the sacrifices and consequences of those choices.
But, Make The Choices, and take an active role in your own life.