This Independence Day, my family watched the movie 1776, a dramatic reminder of the birth of our nation, and the risks the founding fathers were taking to stand for freedom from tyranny. The Declaration of Independence was not just a piece of paper — it was a set of principles that was carefully crafted and debated, with at least one founding father resigning from Congress rather than participate in what he viewed as treason.
We carry the legacy of liberty two hundred thirty-six years later, and indeed, it is what makes our country great. Not perfect, but still an order of magnitude above so many oppressive regimes in the world. With this tradition of freedom so firmly etched into our national identity, it’s sometimes challenging to get the message that certain boundaries do make us healthier and happier.
We live in the land of endless choices: two hundred channels on cable, but nothing worthwhile to watch. Fifty varieties of pasta sauce on the grocery store shelf. Clothing in any color or style imaginable. Is this what our founding fathers fought for?
The most famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Did you know that when it comes to choices, more is not always better? Dr. Barry Schwartz has done rigorous research in this area, and found that more options increase happiness — up to a point. Beyond that, we become increasingly anxious, or even paralyzed, by the number of choices we’re faced with.
With so many choices, we are led to believe (especially by the marketing industry) that there is some option out there that is perfect for us. Paradoxically, though, we often end up regretting what we chose, because we imagine that one of the other options out there might be better still.
In the area of health care, pharmaceutical companies advertise prescription drugs directly to consumers. Why market something to the general public that needs to be prescribed by a physician? So that we go to our medical doctor and demand that drug, rather than relying on the expertise of the doctor to prescribe what is best for our health.
We suffer from too many options — fast food, processed food, endless sources of electronic entertainment to deprive us of exercise and sleep. In this sense, naturopathic medicine is counter-cultural: a major principle we have is vis medicatrix naturae, or the healing power of nature. In other words, get back to the basics — simple, nourishing food, restful sleep, regular physical activity, and conscious methods of stress management. Discover how to fit these into your life, and be on constant guard for the seduction of excessive choice under the guise of “liberty,” that in reality detracts from our life and pursuit of happiness.