Minimalism: A Documentary About Important Things directed by Matt D’Avella (Catalyst, NR, 79 min)

Starring Dan Harris and Joshua Becker.

The Pursuit of Happyness

What makes you happy? This enigmatic pursuit devours everyone who tries to crack the code. In philosophical ethics, the hedonist’s paradox provides an odd truism for the fleeting pursuit of happiness.

In essence, the hedonist’s paradox suggests that the hedonist, a person pursuing pleasure as his or her ultimate end, will never find it. Story after story narrates this fruitless endeavor. The more a person pursues happiness, the unhappier she gets.

And yet, when she stops trying to discover happiness, it serendipitously arrives. Thus, the only path toward happiness is to not look for happiness. Yea verily, a paradox.

The Happiness of Things

In our contemporary culture, happiness often ties closely to material possessions. For most people, the dream life involves wealth—big cars, McMansions, stuff to fill the square footage.

Yet, the documentary Minimalism offers a separate narrative. Following a handful of people across the country, Minimalism argues for the divorce with material items.

Whether living in a tiny house, limiting yourself to 33 items of clothing, or only keeping around items that bring you joy, Minimalism portrays a way of life within our consumptive system but without the addictive nature of continuous consumption. Of course, the documentarians wouldn’t present it any other way, but they argue that true happiness emerges when the constant cycle of overwork to sustain over-consumption disappears.

While a compelling premise, Minimalism depicts one way of unlocking happiness. Even though the documentary argues pointedly for less consumption on ethical, social, and environmental grounds, I would argue that a shift in consumption patterns isn’t enough to unlock happiness.

Searching for Drivers

Most psychological research focused on the motivations of humans has concluded that three areas motivate us. They are: 1. Purpose 2. Mastery and 3. Autonomy.

Of the three categories, the anti-consumption philosophies of Minimalism likely fit within the purpose box. But purpose is more than a belief about what to buy and what not to buy. Purpose is about providing deep meaning to a life, defining how work and social interaction make a difference in the local/global community.

On top of the purpose component, people are motivated to master skills. We want to be good at the activities toward which we are naturally disposed.

And lastly, we want autonomy. In some ways, the decisions of the minimalists in Minimalism represent a self-governed approach to life. But we want autonomy no matter what we do. We all like the freedom to choose, even if that freedom is to choose to restrict our choice.

So, even with a compelling premise, Minimalism offers a small slice of a larger pie. Much like the hedonist’s paradox, if you pursue minimalism with the sole aim of becoming happy, you might fail. But, that doesn’t mean minimalism is a failed concept. I feel the pull of simplification in the wake of watching the documentary. For that reason, it’s worth checking out.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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