Red pill, blue pill (aka the paradigm shift)

Paradigm shift (or revolutionary science) is the term used […] to describe a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science […], (and it’s used also) representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern — a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing […]”.

Another challenging topic, but I’d really like at least to try and jot down a few thoughts, partially inspired by a phone call with a friend, whom I shall thank, and by this post“I’ll just say this, you’ll feel like Neo from the Matrix. Once you swallow the red pill of simplicity and see the hedonic treadmill at work, you’ll never want to go back.” (Eric LaForest / Elevated Simplicity). Reading the post and the comments, you’ll notice that’s a recurring topic: after becoming aware of something, you can’t choose to ignore it anymore, and its consequences; and, if you apply the idea of paradigm shift to things like consumerism/smaller living/downshifting, those consequences can be pretty disruptive.

A paradigm is, by definition, something you don’t challenge: a good example is the idea that more is good for you (on a larger prospective, the idea that an economy should tend to growth). In order to have more, you have to spend more. To spend more, you have to earn more money. Our purpose in life, though, should be happiness. Have more/earn more will make us happy? Apparently it won’t:
“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. […] During the late ’90s, the concept was modified […] to refer to the hedonic treadmill theory which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place”.

If more things/more money does not equal happiness, though, we should start challenging the paradigm: owning more things/earn more money is not necessarily positive. A good example, in my opinion, is the whole concept of buying/renting a house. When we began considering our spending habits, we couldn’t ignore the single biggest cost item of them all… and we realized something quite disturbing. When we started looking, we took for granted we’d buy the largest and nicest house we could afford. We didn’t necessarily consider our actual needs: we could spend a certain sum, then we would do it. There’s an economical reasoning behind this thinking, apparently: “it’s an investment.” It’s a shame that, five years later, with the recession and all, the real estate bubble burst: we have been more than lucky but, to be honest, we didn’t give a damn about the whole “investment” thing. We simply applied the paradigm: more is better. We didn’t consider at all the possibility of spending less than that certain amount and (drums rolling! revelation ahead!) buying a house cheaper than we could afford. And we were wise after all, considering so many people actually bought a house they couldn’t afford, also thanks to the banks and the extreme ease with which they used to approve mortgages… Anyway: when I realized this, it hit me like a blow to the head. Together with the consideration I did immediately after: to have always taken for granted the next house would be larger/nicer. Because that’s what we do, don’t we? We buy, the value of the place improves, hopefully our income does too, and therefore the next time around we up the ante: irrespective of the fact our family did or did not grow or that our needs did actually change. We are a couple, don’t plan to have children, and our basic needs are set, and already largely covered by our current home. There’s no reason to buy a bigger place then, except that we can afford it (if we can afford it; at the moment, probably we can’t :)). And everything starts over again and again.
What if we shifted the paradigm and considered a smaller house or, better: if we honestly evaluated our actual needs and started from there, instead of considering our spending potential first? Or if we sold the house, and chose to rent the next one? Here’s another paradigm for you: “renting does not make sense, you waste good money you could spend in a mortgage, and have a place of your own“. First of all, it’s not really true that renting and buying the same house costs the same; and, secondly, are we really sure that “having a place of your own” is better from an economic perspective? Probably, in hindsight, many who applied that paradigm in the last 10 years would answer no to this question (if they were honest)… (It’s a topic I already mentioned in this post, by the way, together with a very interesting article on the benefits of living in a smaller house.)
Try picturing this: no more mortgage, no more checking the interest rates (if you don’t have a fixed interested mortgage, which is safer but also more expensive), no more “huge-debt-for-the-next-20-years-of-my-life” syndrome, no more bureaucracy when you finally find a place you like (I’m not really informed about the procedure involved in buying a house in the US, for example: in Italy, it’s a nightmare, and a very expensive one), if you need to move for any reason, or simply want to. No more huge expenses for redoing the building facade, the roof, or fixing the lift. No more panic if something major breaks: it’s not your house, it’s the owner’s! I know, owning a house also has its perks. But again, let’s just consider both options, before automatically say that owning it’s better.

Same goes for the car (anyone you know bought a new car which is smaller/less powerful/cheaper than the one before?) and, generally speaking, for anything in our life. I dare say we are all sweating on that treadmill: what if we tried to step off? Or consider it at the very least? Slow down a bit, shift the paradigm, and see what happens? As always, the answers are not really important (a smaller house or car is not necessarily “better”; the red pill is not necessarily the best choice… after all, Cypher did have a point!): the questions are, though, the same old awareness thingie (I know, I’m repeating myself). To work our ass off to earn money we spend on things we don’t really need, and which don’t really make us happy… is really worth it?
As usual, I wrote too much, so I’ll stop here, but in the future I’d like to come back to the same topic and, if I can, give you some other inputs, about happiness in particular. I’ll leave you with The Matrix, of course.

Morpheus: […] Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Neo: Yes.
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind”.

…Which will it be then? Red pill or blue pill?

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7 thoughts on “Red pill, blue pill (aka the paradigm shift)

    1. Lo giuro, non l’avevo visto, è un caso! 🙂 Ieri ho letto un po’ il tuo blog, ma mi ero fermata a “4 mesi”!

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