The seventh podcast in Donald Kraybill’s series “What I Learned From The Amish” looks at the concept of choice. Does having more choices make people happier? Or is that just an illusion?
Drive or fly? How about some cinnamon roll-flavored coffee creamer at the gas station? Premium insurance package on my new laptop or just the standard (or none at all)? Even if many of these additional options are quickly discarded, they still take a processing toll. Pondering layers upon layers of choices undoubtedly adds to our mental load and can certainly deduct from the daily allotment of time and energy each of us is working with.
The Amish certainly don’t eliminate all choices, but they go a fair way in that direction, eliminating many choices in terms of clothing, transportation, occupation, style of home, and so on. But still, a good number of choices remain within Amish society. Take buying a new buggy – you’ll still come across a fairly long feature list, at least in the more progressive settlements. So the Amish have their own sets of choices, but within a different frame.
That said, what Amish society does is reduce much of the mental load by taking many layers of choices off the table. “Amish traditions reduce the anxiety of choice for members while still preserving plenty of options,” Kraybill explains. He uses the examples of Amish clothing and weddings to illustrate the idea that “fewer choices bring more joy”.
Donald B. Kraybill is professor of sociology emeritus at Elizabethtown College and senior fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. An internationally recognized scholar, he has published many books and professional essays on the Amish and other Anabaptist communities in North America. His most recent book, What the Amish Teach Us is available from Johns Hopkins University Press and Amazon.