The more I’ve thought about happiness, the more wary I’ve become of false choices. It’s so easy to frame choices or attitudes in an either/or way, and yet, so often, that choice is misleading. Often, there are other options; or the choice is overly reductionist; or no choice is necessary at all.
False choices are tempting for a couple of reasons. First, instead of facing a bewildering array of options, you limit yourself to a few simple possibilities. Also, the way you set up the options usually makes it obvious that one choice is the high-minded, reasonable, laudable choice, and one is not.
But although false choices can be comforting, they can leave you feeling trapped, and they can blind you to other choices you might make. Consider this list … do you ever find yourself thinking in these terms?
- I can either be positive, or I can be authentic
- I should decide whether I want a life that’s interesting, or a life that’s happy
- I can have a few close friends or lots of superficial friends
- I can choose a job I enjoy, or I can make good money
- I have to decide to marry this person now, or accept the fact that I’ll never have a family
- I must worry about the happiness of other people, or about my own happiness
- I can have a life full of fun, passion, and adventure, and I can have security
Maybe these are your only two choices — but maybe not.
I often struggle with the first one; I try to find ways to be authentically enthusiastic, and sincerely positive. Usually it’s not as hard as I expect.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” Happiness is a goal and a by-product. Nietzche explained this well: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”
Have you ever caught yourself framing a problem in a false choice?