The Amish and Happiness

People sometimes pity the Amish, thinking that since they do not have a chance to go to university, they must live miserable lives. Not to mention:  no car, no internet, no makeup, no golf.

But maybe it depends a bit on what you value.

If you value things like unrestricted choice, education, wealth, and consumption above all else, then yes, Amish life might not look so hot.

Amish_girls_walking_1

But if you put things like family, community, sense of identity, and spirituality first, it’s not difficult to see why 80-90% of Amish youth choose to join their parents’ church.

So people have different systems of values.  But what about happiness?

Are the Amish happier, on the whole?

Possibly.

amish community church family

One study puts Amish suicide at less than half the non-Amish rate.

Depression levels are low compared to the general population.

Amish women have exhibited high levels of contentment in studies carried out in communities such as Holmes County.

Some individuals, of course, struggle.  But generally, Amish enjoy security of community and a strong sense of identity.

Less choice = More happiness?

Could less choice actually mean greater happiness?

Just listened to a talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, given at the TED conference two years ago.

Got me thinking on one possible insight from Amish society: more restrictions and fewer choices don’t necessarily mean less happiness.

It may actually mean the reverse.

Amish Girl Vegetable Garden
Photo: Cindy Seigle

That’s quite different from the message most of us get from society, from our social groups, from advertisements.

As one reader puts it:

It leaves more time to enjoy the things you do have when you’re not bombarded and swamped with excess. – Genevieve

Or another, who put this into practice in his own life:

I think it can absolutely mean the reverse and often does depending on your focus and world view. It makes me think of Solomon who had EVERYTHING and was miserable with it.

In my own life, I’ve given up the 40+ hour work week to work for myself from home. We’ve given up a great bit financially, but have grown to love spending the new time we have together as a family and working all together. In our (small) case, a smaller fishbowl definitely was an increase in happiness. – Sean LaFianza

Food for thought.

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