Stop Optimizing Your Life—It’s Making You Miserable
Magazine / Stop Optimizing Your Life—It’s Making You Miserable

Stop Optimizing Your Life—It’s Making You Miserable

Arts & Culture Habits & Productivity
Stop Optimizing Your Life—It’s Making You Miserable

I’ve always hated grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping conjures memories of an hour spent pushing a cart down the aisle with one hand and clutching a shopping list in the other—with eyes searching the shelves for that elusive box filled with some random ingredient we need for Sunday dinner.

Gigantic waste of time.

Imagine my delight when I discovered Instacart. For a low annual fee, they deliver groceries to your doorstep—with no delivery fees! The skies parted and the angels began to sing. I signed up immediately and stopped my weekly trek to Whole Foods.

My quality of life improved immediately—or so I thought.

Yes, I could now use that hour doing something that I actually enjoyed. But when grocery shopping disappeared from my life, so did precious moments of human connection and serendipity. I no longer struck up a conversation with the checkout clerk or found my new favorite vegetable in the produce aisle. Long gone were the days from my bachelor years when I would awkwardly flirt with the cute woman whose shopping cart was stacked with frozen dinners for one.

Yes, efficiency has brought tremendous value to our lives, but that efficiency came with a serious cost. In maximizing convenience, we’ve sacrificed connection. No wonder we’re feeling more isolated than we’ve ever been.

We buy books on Amazon instead of walking through the shelves at the local bookstore and asking the staff for recommendations.

“In maximizing convenience, we’ve sacrificed connection.”

We wolf down a sandwich at our desks while staring at a screen to squeeze 30 more minutes of work into our day, instead of taking a full hour to connect with a colleague over lunch.

We swipe left and right, instead of finding romantic serendipity on a bar stool.

We prefer lightweight and superficial interactions on social media, instead of investing in the harder work of meaningful, in-person connections.

We’ve fallen victim to a crass commercialism that equates time with money. The hours and minutes we save allow us to work harder and be more “productive,” but we lose something in the process. We end up optimizing away the joyful moments of our lives and lose our connection to other human beings. We become hamsters entrapped in a cage of our own making, walking to the carefully engineered beat of our daily routines. As a result, our lives begin to look more like a cautionary tale than a source of inspiration.

The remedy doesn’t have to be drastic. You don’t have to go on a prolonged digital fast or become a luddite.

Instead, engage in minor acts of rebellion. See a movie at a movie theater. Send a handwritten thank-you card instead of an email. Go to a farmer’s market to pick vegetables for your dinner (or better yet, grow them yourself in your garden). Buy a book at your local independent bookstore. Take the bus to work and leave your smartphone in your bag. Play a record on a turntable instead of yelling orders at Alexa.

When the needle touches the record just so, spinning out its own crackly version of your favorite tune, your life will begin to play.

And you’ll discover, ever so slowly, the pleasure of doing things the hard way.

Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned law professor and bestselling author. Click here to download a free copy of his e-book, The Contrarian Handbook: 8 Principles for Innovating Your Thinking. Along with your free e-book, you’ll get weekly strategies to innovate your thinking.

the Next Big Idea App

app-store play-market

Also in Magazine