Why having less things and activities gives us more freedom and happiness. Why low probability risks are unacceptable if the consequences affect all of us.
In this episode you’ll learn:
- Why removing things can be more powerful then adding things, especially when it comes to happiness.
- Why we should avoid actions that can have systemic consequences and instead focus on more localized actions.
- Why we should take bounded risks like starting a business.
The inspiration behind this episode came from the idea of the power of local and less, from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Skin in the Game. David discusses the power behind experimenting at the local level in order to avoid systemic risk, as well as why less is more when it comes to happiness.
Living in a via negativa mindset can set you free
Taleb writes extensively about “via negativa” in his book, which explains that “The act by removing is more powerful than acting by addition.” If having nice things means working long hours at a job you hate while sacrificing time with your loved ones, then perhaps having nice things shouldn’t be the end goal in life. If you’re not concerned with physical “stuff,” then you are free to live your life and pursue your greatest joys without the burden of material goods. David argues that if you’re not happy with less, then you certainly won’t be happy with more.
By removing the negative aspects of your life, you can increase your level of overall happiness.
A simple landscaping example illuminates this idea perfectly. If a wonderful hotel has impeccable landscaping, but the surrounding grounds are littered with trash and clutter, then the only thing one must do to improve the overall situation is to remove the clutter – not add more landscaping! Since via negativa states removing unnecessary or unwanted parts of your life will result in greater levels of happiness, it only makes sense to conclude that adding things will not give you the same result. People spend decades collecting items that they do not need or truly want. And the more they seek, the less happiness they find. For true happiness, one must appreciate all the good things in life and simply live day to day in a joy mindset.
Why taking action against climate change is so critical, due to the precautionary principle
While seemingly unrelated to via negativa, the second major principle discussed on this episode is just as critical. The precautionary principle is what drives Nassim Nicholas Taleb to take action against the global threat of climate change. Taleb argues that if an action could potentially destroy the planet, it is on those who pollute to show a lack of tail risk. So much of the controversy regarding climate change is about the accuracy of the scientific models, but what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models? We only have one planet. Even a risk with a very low probability is unacceptable when it affects all of us – there is no reversing a mistake of that magnitude. If we don’t fully understand something, and it has a systemic effect, we should avoid it completely. This episode of Money For the Rest of Us makes an undeniable case for why every single person should care about climate change, and you need to hear it.
How to change the world at the micro-level, starting with a single business
Changing the world on the macro-scale sounds romantic, but it is simply not feasible for the vast majority of people. To truly do good in the world and make a difference, David urges his listeners to simply start at the local level. Start a business in your community and spend freely at other local businesses. Get to know your neighbors and care about their lives. Take bounded risks, don’t attempt to change the entire system, and tinker at the micro-level until you see some good come from it. All this and more is covered on this encouraging episode of Money For the Rest of Us.
In This Episode You’ll Learn
[1:00] David introduces his topic for this episode, “the power of local and less”
[2:12] The first main idea for the episode, via negativa, is discussed
[6:47] So how do we solve this pursuit of unreachable happiness?
[9:29] A second example of living through via negativa
[12:45] David shares a third example of a via negativa lifestyle
[15:51] Why David and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb believe in taking action against climate change, due to the precautionary principle
[21:20] How to change the world by starting a business
As a Money For the Rest of Us Plus member you are able to listen to the podcast in an ad-free format and also have access to the written transcript for this week’s episode.