The Incredible Lightness of Not Having a Preference

What would life be like if we simply enjoy what is right in front of us and be who we are in the moment rather than be manipulated by tracked tendencies?Consumerism is excellent at one thing—getting us to focus on satisfying our preferences.Much of what is passed off as self-help advice is nothing more than lifestyle design. We feel we can craft a picture-perfect, satisfying life by choosing among the options that please us best.This stands in stark contrast to the way life was lived for most of history and continues to be lived by many people today. In those older traditions, choices were fewer and farther between. You may have inherited a job, had a spouse chosen for you, or lived close to the place you were born.Personally, I’m not keen on reviving every aspect of this way of life. I really do think choice is good, and with the right balance, I’m appreciative that I can choose a job, wife, and hobbies that are a good fit for my personality.What I’m concerned about is a mindset obsessed with preference. Too much of a good thing can crowd out other good things, and I’m afraid, at least in my own life, that has happened.In theory, it sounds amazing to have a life that is increasingly fitted to your desires, but it can come with several costs:The more you get exactly what you want, the more frustrated you will be with the parts of your life that will not or cannot bend to your preferences.The more time you spend doing what you want, the less interested you will become in what others may prefer.The more predictable your satisfaction becomes, the less adventure and spontaneity you’ll allow into your life—preferring what is safe and easy.In all these ways, I predict life could become smaller, narrower, and ultimately less satisfying.Forgoing PreferencesWhen I say “don’t have a preference,” I’m not denying that you may genuinely prefer one thing or another or that you may at times wish to act upon these desires. I’m not saying anything so literal. I’m suggesting that you give up on cultivating these preferences and, many times, adopt a spirit that such preferences are really no big deal. They are passing thoughts, not more meaningful than a new trend or fad.Related StoriesFor example, you might choose to:Not have a preference between work or leisure. Let go of the rigid distinction between work and leisure, and instead view them as interchangeable categories. What we consider work in one context can be rest in another, and leisure itself is just a different form of activity. With this attitude, productive work can be seen as a restorative change of pace, and traditional leisure activities can be seen as fulfilling a greater purpose.Not have a preference between the types of work you do. Don’t be fussy about the work you find to do. Some people stare at their to-do list trying to figure out what kind of mood they are in and what work suits their current fancy. That is a fool’s game, destined for restlessness and frustration. Just get in the habit of picking up the first work you see. If something needs to be done, lay it out the night before so it becomes the first thing you lay eyes on in the morning.Not have a preference about where you are or what you’re doing. So much of life is spent in places that you don’t necessarily choose to be in. You are, by some need or want, required to be present, stick in your seat, or show up and do the work. Why grumble about this state of affairs? Adopt the pleasant mindset of one who simply wishes to be wherever they are.Not have a preference for what you eat or wear. Food and clothing companies have fanned into flames our natural desire for variety and self-expression. This is not inherently bad, but you may prefer the lightness of not having a preference in this area either. When it comes to food and clothes, choose to be someone who is easy to please and happy to adapt to whatever the circumstances.Lean Into the StreamThe approach I’m describing, unconstrained by the weight of pleasing your own preferences and deciding what you want, is a far lighter way to exist. You might even decide to expand the experiment into new domains and see how far you can take it.Don’t heed the worry that this will turn you into a bore or a robotic version of yourself. Consumerism’s lie is that the only way to enjoy life is to first figure out your preferences. Another path, perhaps happier than all the others, is to appreciate what is before you and to embrace it fully. You don’t need to change it or shape the outcome in a particular direction—just lean into the stream wherever it takes you.Of course, choices can and will still be made along the way.However, these choices will feel smaller and less weighty when you realize that no matter where you go, you have everything you need. Marriage, careers, and hobbies only reach a monumental heaviness when they are weighed down by the need to perfectly satisfy us. But what if we’re easy to please? What if we’ve learned not to prefer so much as to simp

The Incredible Lightness of Not Having a Preference

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What would life be like if we simply enjoy what is right in front of us and be who we are in the moment rather than be manipulated by tracked tendencies?

Consumerism is excellent at one thing—getting us to focus on satisfying our preferences.

Much of what is passed off as self-help advice is nothing more than lifestyle design. We feel we can craft a picture-perfect, satisfying life by choosing among the options that please us best.

This stands in stark contrast to the way life was lived for most of history and continues to be lived by many people today. In those older traditions, choices were fewer and farther between. You may have inherited a job, had a spouse chosen for you, or lived close to the place you were born.

Personally, I’m not keen on reviving every aspect of this way of life. I really do think choice is good, and with the right balance, I’m appreciative that I can choose a job, wife, and hobbies that are a good fit for my personality.

What I’m concerned about is a mindset obsessed with preference. Too much of a good thing can crowd out other good things, and I’m afraid, at least in my own life, that has happened.

In theory, it sounds amazing to have a life that is increasingly fitted to your desires, but it can come with several costs:
  • The more you get exactly what you want, the more frustrated you will be with the parts of your life that will not or cannot bend to your preferences.
  • The more time you spend doing what you want, the less interested you will become in what others may prefer.
  • The more predictable your satisfaction becomes, the less adventure and spontaneity you’ll allow into your life—preferring what is safe and easy.
In all these ways, I predict life could become smaller, narrower, and ultimately less satisfying.
.

Forgoing Preferences

When I say “don’t have a preference,” I’m not denying that you may genuinely prefer one thing or another or that you may at times wish to act upon these desires. I’m not saying anything so literal. I’m suggesting that you give up on cultivating these preferences and, many times, adopt a spirit that such preferences are really no big deal. They are passing thoughts, not more meaningful than a new trend or fad.

For example, you might choose to:
  • Not have a preference between work or leisure. Let go of the rigid distinction between work and leisure, and instead view them as interchangeable categories. What we consider work in one context can be rest in another, and leisure itself is just a different form of activity. With this attitude, productive work can be seen as a restorative change of pace, and traditional leisure activities can be seen as fulfilling a greater purpose.
  • Not have a preference between the types of work you do. Don’t be fussy about the work you find to do. Some people stare at their to-do list trying to figure out what kind of mood they are in and what work suits their current fancy. That is a fool’s game, destined for restlessness and frustration. Just get in the habit of picking up the first work you see. If something needs to be done, lay it out the night before so it becomes the first thing you lay eyes on in the morning.
  • Not have a preference about where you are or what you’re doing. So much of life is spent in places that you don’t necessarily choose to be in. You are, by some need or want, required to be present, stick in your seat, or show up and do the work. Why grumble about this state of affairs? Adopt the pleasant mindset of one who simply wishes to be wherever they are.
  • Not have a preference for what you eat or wear. Food and clothing companies have fanned into flames our natural desire for variety and self-expression. This is not inherently bad, but you may prefer the lightness of not having a preference in this area either. When it comes to food and clothes, choose to be someone who is easy to please and happy to adapt to whatever the circumstances.

.

Lean Into the Stream

The approach I’m describing, unconstrained by the weight of pleasing your own preferences and deciding what you want, is a far lighter way to exist. You might even decide to expand the experiment into new domains and see how far you can take it.

Don’t heed the worry that this will turn you into a bore or a robotic version of yourself. Consumerism’s lie is that the only way to enjoy life is to first figure out your preferences. Another path, perhaps happier than all the others, is to appreciate what is before you and to embrace it fully. You don’t need to change it or shape the outcome in a particular direction—just lean into the stream wherever it takes you.

Of course, choices can and will still be made along the way.

However, these choices will feel smaller and less weighty when you realize that no matter where you go, you have everything you need. Marriage, careers, and hobbies only reach a monumental heaviness when they are weighed down by the need to perfectly satisfy us. But what if we’re easy to please? What if we’ve learned not to prefer so much as to simply appreciate? Well, then, you’ll find yourself quite happy no matter where you go, and you’ll be covering more ground without the extra baggage.

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