A number of years ago, I read The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. In it, he talks about why even though we have fewer constraints and more choices in almost every aspect of our lives, we aren’t actually happier for it. We certainly believe that happiness is linked to personal freedom and abundance, but we often find that constantly making decisions is exhausting and stressful. Every choice made is a rejection of one or more alternatives. Regret accompanies choice as we wonder if we’ve chosen correctly and blame ourselves if we are less than satisfied.
One area of life where the number of choices has dramatically increased in recent decades is food. My small town grocery store carries a huge selection of cereal, snacks, condiments, beverages, and practically everything else. I’ll bet there are a dozen kinds of salt. I’m sure most of us are happy to not have to line up Soviet-style for our cabbage ration, but neither are our lives improved by spending our time agonizing in the salad dressing aisle.
Habits are all the rage now. In the self-help section of Amazon, there are 922 titles about habits in the “motivational” section alone (speaking of overwhelming choice). Habits are simply pre-made choices. Because I’ve had a tooth brushing habit since I’ve had teeth, I do not need to decide whether or not to brush my teeth before bed. That decision was made 50 years ago and it’s one less choice I need to make today. My quality of life is not diminished by that particular lack of freedom. Lots of smart people are recognizing that good habits are the foundation of a satisfying life.
One objection to adopting a whole food, plant-based diet is the perceived lack of freedom to choose what to eat. The concern that not being able to eat anything off the menu will dramatically affect your happiness. But it won’t. In fact, you may find it a blessed relief to have your choices narrowed down for you.
This is actually key to a simple life. Figure out what your priorities and values are, then make some umbrella decisions so you don’t have to waste time and mental energy thinking about them later. For example, if you are concerned about your health, the environment and animal rights, it makes sense to choose to eat only whole vegan foods. By committing to this way of eating, you have reduced the number of choices you need to make and the potential for dissatisfaction. You will most certainly spend less time in the interior of the grocery store agonizing over boxed cereals and cookies.
This is also an argument for jumping in to a whole food vegan diet, rather than slowly transitioning as some people recommend. A transition period is a period of extra decisions in your life. Is this ok to eat? Am I ready to give up yogurt? Is this the family dinner where I don’t eat the turkey? More decisions mean more stress.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that eating only whole plant foods is easier than eating the standard American diet. But most of the important things in our lives are not the easiest things. Kids, education, career, even exercise – we value the things we put effort into. When our efforts push us closer in alignment with our values so much the better. A plant-based life may not be easier, but it is simpler.
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