Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Road to happiness doesn’t pass on trodden commercial streets [Drumul spre fericire nu trece pe artere comerciale bătătorite]

There may be some (women or not only?!) who can benefit (at least temporarily) from the ‘therapeutic effects’ of shopping (a view from India on this), yet it doesn’t work for me – I loathe it.

Some are afraid of driving on high roads; it seems that I’m not, after I drove both on the Transfăgărăşan and Transalpina this summer. Others are afraid of public speaking; I’m not, as long as this is my current job.

Those scared of heights or those hardly willing to speak publicly could possibly understand how (not necessarily ‘afraid’ but clearly) incomfortable I am with going shopping.

Almost every time I have to buy something (meaning that I-really-need-to-do-so!!! ), I feel that I am challenged to get out of my comfort zone, and most shopping sessions and prove to be distasteful experiences.

They can be either mildly depressing to pychologically exhausting experiences. Except for the rare occasions when they were more ‘cultural experiences’ rather than actual shopping.

Although I did buy something, and spent several hundred dollars, euros or pounds, I must admit that I didn’t feel so bad in stores where I got ‘good value for the money’.

The few positive examples: Marks & Spencer stores (in Brighton and Edinburgh), a Upim store (Rome), the bazaar around Yu Gardens (Shanghai) or the store on board the US aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

On the contrary, in over 90% cases when I go shopping in Romania, there surely must be something to be unhappy about.

I could put the blame on (the lack of) available choices, on outrageous (compared to other, deemed richer, EU countries) prices, or on the (typical Romanian?!) attitude of the vendors, however, it wouldn’t be completely true.

There’s no doubt that no (real or imaginary) external causes such as the above could be to blame. It’s something of my inner nature

I’ve always been wondering… how did our ancestors live without so many choices at hand? Was life really tough in a ‘choiceless’ society?

Well, according to American psychologist Barry Schwartz, our ancestors may have been better off without many of the contemporary choices available to us.

There’s an official dogma in the Western world claiming that the welfare of citizens = the maximization of freedom = the maximization of choice.

But that’s all wrong! According to Schwartz, the abundant choice around us has made us not freer but more paralyzed, by no means happier but actually more dissatisfied.

Dissatisfied with the products we buy, with the psychological pressures of choosing, and also dissatisfied with everything else around.

Could this explain why we are always discontented, grumpy, and ready to try to change our jobs, professions, goals, and even significant others for ‘choices’ that end up driving us crazier than we were before choosing?

I recommend watching this 20-min video of Schwartz, and trying to read his book: The Paradox of Choice. Why More Is Less!

Not that reading it would change anyone’s shopping habits or would open our road to happiness. Maybe it could help us scrap another choice of road where happiness is not to be found.

[For all the posts on this blog go to/Pentru toate postările de pe acest blog mergi la: Contents/Cuprins]


MunteanUK said...

Photo Legend:

[1] Piccadilly Circus, a road junction and public square in the City of Westminster, uniting (since 1819) two major shopping streets of London – Regent Street and Piccadily.

[2] Republicii street – the main pedestrian road in the historical centre of Braşov, the capital of Braşov county (BV) in central Romania. The municipality often makes it to the ‘top three Romanian cities’ in various surveys.

[3] Rue de Tabora (Taborastraat), between Grand Place (Grote Markt) and Bourse (Beurs) – the commercial area of Belgium’s an EU’s capital, Brussels (or Bruxelles / Brussel).

[4] One of the bewildering illuminated advertisings on Broadway, New York City. If you look at your feet for 30 seconds, then raise your eyes again, you often get the impression that you’ve been ‘teleported’ to a different place, because of the rapidly changing lights, images and slogans.

[5] Via del Corso, commercial street in the historical centre of Rome, a continuation inside the city of an ancient road (Via Flaminia), which stretched from the Roman capital to the Adriatic Sea.

[6] Centrul Pietonal Corso, pedestrian street packed with shops and pubs in Oradea (BH), Romania. A city that could easily make it into my personal ‘top five Romanian cities’ :-)

[7] Buchanan street, the main shopping street of Glasgow, once the economic powerhouse of the country and still the most populous city (over 592,800 inhabitants) of Scotland.

[8] The corner of the central Piaţa Trandafirilor (Roses Square) and Călăraşilor street in Târgu Mureş (MS), Romania.

[9] La Rambla, a 1.2 km-long pedestrian road in the heart of Barcelona, Spain. It stretches from the Gothic Quarter to Plaça de Catalunya, and it is actually made up of several little streets, hence the original name: Las Ramblas.

[10] A shopping mall on Nicolae Bălcescu street in Bacău (BC, Romania) – one of the economically strongest cities in Eastern Romania, yet far less beautiful than other cities in Moldova.

[11] Nanjing Road (Shanghai, China), one of the longest (6 km) and most crowded commercial roads in the world. Most of Shanghai historical buildings, fanciest stores, and restaurants are located nearby.

[12] Moldova Mall, a large shopping mall built across one of the best known historical buildings of Iaşi (IS, Romania) – the Palace of Culture.

[13] Calle de Postas – one of the little shopping streets in central Madrid (Spain), famous for Museo del Jamón, a museum dedicated to Spanish dry-cured ham (jamón).

[14] A little part of Arad’s (AR, Romania) main boulevard, Bulevardul Revoluţiei, an area famous for historical buildings (Neumann Palace, Roman-Catholic Cathedral, City Hall), as well as many cafés and shops.

[15] Bulevardul Eroilor, main artery in Cluj-Napoca (CJ, Romania) half open to motor vehicle traffic and half-pedestianised – a part of the city ‘that never sleeps’, very popular with young locals, students from all over Romania and tourists.

[16] The Eastern part of Princes street, splitting the Old Town (to the South) from the New Town, as seen from on top Walter Scott Monument. Apart from being a busy shopping area, the street is famous for Renton’s and Spud’s chase by security guards in the movie ‘Trainspotting’ (1996) .

[17] Modex building, to the right of Piaţa Operei, the ‘ground zero’ of the so-called ‘Romanian Revolution’ of December 1989, Timişoara (TM).

[18] İstiklâl Caddesi (Independence Avenue) is one the best known commercial streets in Istanbul (Turkey), dating back from Ottoman times. Almost exclusively pedestrian, except for a single-coach tram running for 1.64 km of its 3 km length, the artery boasts with 3 million visitors per every weekend day.

Anonymous said...

E vb de costul de oportunitate, si daca daca la nivel de intreprindere e normal, e normal si la nivel personal, doar ca aici e mult mai "costisitor"... sa stai sa analizezi, sa-ti incarci capul cu atatea informatii, sa poti sa cantaresti cat mai bine oportunitatile etc.

poate suna economic, dar nu are doar sens economic, pt ca de ex. acelasi lucru se intampla cand intri pe net si ai de ales intre atatea si atatea articole, chiar cele... ortodoxe.

e ciudat cum, desi omul cauta libertatea, in acelasi timp constata ca "more is less", dar si ca (nu doar in cazul credintei, dar mai ales aici!) desi stie ca trebuie sa se incadreze in niste norme/legi, se simte (si este!) LIBER tocmai respectandu-le pe acelea.

ar mai fi multe de spus, scuze pentru romana mea la un articol in engleza... :(

Florin M.

MunteanUK said...

Dear Florin M,

O course I forgive your for having posted a comment in Romanian to an article meant for English speakers.

It's not an 'unforgivable' sin :-)


However, in order for others (who don't speak Romanian) to understand what you meant, I think I should try to translate (and slightly adapt) what you said:

It [my article, Scwartz’s theory] refers to the opportunity cost, [something] normal for companies and normal on a personal level, just as it’s ‘more expensive’… to sit and analyze, load your head with so much information, in order to be able to better weigh the opportunities etc.

It may sound economic, yet it doesn’t have an exclusively economic meaning. For instance, the same thing happens when one surfs the Web and has to choose from so many and so many articles, even on Orthodox topics.

It’s strange how a man seeks freedom, and in the meantime sees that ‘more is less’, but also (not only for faith but especially here!), although he knows he must comply with some rules/laws, he feels (and is!) FREE by just observing those rules/laws.

Much to say, sorry for my Romanian to an article in English… :-(


I hope my translation is clear enough and it doesn't 'twist' the meaning of anything you said.

Be sure that - if you find the time - I'd be interested in reading any other opinions of yours on this topic...

...preferably in English to the above article :-) or in Romanian, in case I will use our mother tongue to post some similar ideas.


I fully agree with your view that being exposed to an overload of interesting articles (be them on faith issues of utmost importance) can ultimately nulify the importance of those writings.

We simply cannot cope with so much information :-(

Sadly, we often forget that 'knowing more' does by no means make us 'better' at those things we read about, unless we put them into practice!

Mihai said...

Hello Bogdan,

Great article. I agree that the abundance of choice in the modern society can actually be psychologically exhausting.

It seems that this abundance of choice has spread over all aspects of modern life. You want to read a book about something: hundreds of choices; you want to see a good movie: thousands of choices; you want to buy some product: billions of choices.

And each product can come in different size, shape, color etc.


I also feel very uncomfortable when going shopping. I think I've always been a reluctant shopper. Mostly because I know there is a possibility that I will spend the following night thinking that I should have chosen product Y instead of product X, which I already bought and there is no refund.

And sometimes it's not easy for me to chase away those thoughts and get some sleep, even if the thing I just bought was not very important or expensive.


Regarding the problem of abundant interesting articles (be it orthodox articles) I must also agree with you and Florin.

Your comment has brought to my mind an advice of Elder Sophrony Sacharov for his apprentices, that they should only read a few pages a day but try to accomplish in their lives what they read.

MunteanUK said...

Dear Mihai,

Thanks for coming back to my blog, and offering your little confession which proves that I am not the only one 'sickened' with shopping :-)

I seems that we are in full agreement over the fact that abundant choice suffocates freedom, and shatters our inner peace.