Via Negitiva - Bro

Via negativa” is the idea of improvement by subtraction. Using this approach to happiness would be to remove things that do not make you happy. I first heard this idea from Nassim Taleb. An analogy would be to take a block of marble and removing all the marble that is not the statue. By doing so you would be left with only the core beauty of the rock in the form of a statue.

In my life there are many things that “bring me no joy”. I am sure we can all think of examples such as business meetings, dentist appointments, traffic, ect. It is very easy to try to focus on what makes us happy or what we think we need but it is just as important to think about what makes us unhappy.

A prime example of this is traffic. How much joy do you get from sitting it traffic? Even with a good audio book or podcast it still sucks to be in traffic. If you move closer to work and cut a commute from 45 minutes each way to 15 minutes each way your life will be much better than if you were to instead try to focus on adding something to your life such as a vacation, pet, or new toy.

Via negativa also applies to obligations. An example of this is my wife and girl scouts. She is very happy to spend some of her time being an assistant leader. The problem is she is now being pressured to take on more responsibility than she wants. By saying no to giving more than she is comfortable with she is establishing boundaries and not allowing something to grow to the point that it removes joy from her life.

It is important to consider via negativa with kids as well. Will it bring them more joy to do soccer, swimming, karate, basketball, and competitive cup stacking? My kids love to do activities but the logic of “if 1 activity is good then 2 must be better” is simply not true. Many times our activities grow without conscious thought and we must take time to intentionally cut our lives back to a comfortable state.

Objects are not immune from via negativa. Minimalism is born from this idea. A house filled to the brim with stuff is a nightmare (it's called hoarding). Even the case of having slightly too much stuff is difficult. The extra stuff must be sorted, stored, and cleaned. If you have an excessive wardrobe then it takes you more time to find the outfit you want, you need more space to store it, and you have lost all the money it took to purchase that extra stuff. I try to resist the urge to add anything to the household I don't absolutely need and I am merciless when it comes to purging old toys and clothes.

My suggestion is to take the time to truly consider what items in your life bring you joy. This could be family, church, outdoors, or whatever. Once you have done this do your best to remove everything else! Be victorious. You can always add back. Say no dinner with the family member you don't care for, pass on the social outing that feels like an obligation, and stand up to those things that seem to slowly push your boundaries.

-If there is any question in your mind just say no or get rid of it
-Try to make it a process. Get rid of one thing everyday and try to get rid of one burdensome commitment a month.
-Do not let other things fill the void when you finally subtract something!
-Think if this as a process (journey type thinking) and not a single task (destination type thinking)

-Decision fatigue is a real thing. Take your time and subtract little by little.


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