Small, smaller, smallest

When we’re feeling unhappy, we tend to think we need to make drastic changes in our lives. We say: “Surely if I change my job, or go live somewhere else, my life will be so much better.” But solutions can often be found in small things, and much closer to home. You can read more about this in issue 14, and below you can read a preview of the article.

Packing your suitcases and going on a trip when you’re no longer happy at home; ending your relationship when the passion has gone; starting a B&B in Tuscany when your day job becomes boring: many people dream up grand plans. They want to change course, shake things up, do everything totally differently. Because if true happiness isn’t where they are right now, it must be there, beyond the horizon, beckoning them. If only I could get a better job. Or a new love. A better house. Then everything will be fine… But why make such grand plans, when usually a smaller change can have a more lasting impact?

According to Dutch philosopher and psychologist Gijs Deckers, it’s in our nature to think in terms of radical solutions. “In philosophy, we call that ‘dichotomous thinking:’ thinking in terms of opposites, such as happy/unhappy, high/low,” he explains. “It is easier to see things in black and white than to pay attention to all the grey tints in between.” Deckers says that’s also how we look for solutions. We think that only the opposite of what is making us unhappy will make us happy: an extrovert partner instead of an introvert one; working with your hands instead of with your mind; living abroad instead of in your hometown. This leaves us defenseless against the errors in our thinking. We go back and forth between extremes, because each extreme has its drawbacks.

Another mistake we make in our thinking is to overestimate the emotional impact of a future event. Scientists call this “impact bias.” We think we’ll be overcome with joy once we fix up that little castle in the south of France, or that we will be permanently ecstatic when we finally find true love. But reality is bleaker than that. You may not feel quite at home in the French countryside, and your new partner won’t live up to unrealistic fairy-tale expectations all day, every day. Before you know it, you’ll be succumbing to mistake number one again—dichotomous thinking—and considering another drastic change.

You can read more in Issue 14. You can order a copy in our web shop. Or you can find Flow Magazine in bookstores all over the world. Take a look at the storelocator, or e-mail us at for more information.

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Text Otje van der Lelij Photography Getty Images