Search this Blog


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Yerkes-Dodson Law

Our life is a quest for happiness.  We try to do things that would help us become happier. And pursuing “more” is a common approach because we believe that having more of something means more happiness: we usually seek more money, more assets, more friends or even more likes on social media.

“More” is also popular as a design approach because that’s what customers want: more quantities, more functionalities, more amenities, more decorations, and so on.

But interestingly, an increasing number of people are overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling distracted surrounded by so much “stuff.”  They are realizing that it’s easy to lose control when you sink into a heap of “more.” 

So the minimalist movement emerged: minimalists decided to give up excess belongings that caused stress and distraction. Decluttering follows the same path: it forces you to go through your belongings so that you ONLY own what “sparks joy”- what you can happily manage.

If it is true that more does not guarantee happiness, and can even cause stress, can we understand it scientifically? We could tap on to the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law is an empirical theory between arousal and performance. As you can see in the black bell-curve above, the law maintains that our performance increases as we become physiologically and mentally aroused – or become alert and concentrated – but only up to a point.

When the level of arousal becomes too high, we feel increasingly stressed and anxious, and the quality of our performance decreases.

If you change the Y-axis from “performance” to “ability to feel happy,” and add a linear line of “the amount of belongings” (red line), you easily see what’s going on.

Applying the Yerkes-Dodson Law, we can establish a hypothesis that our ability to feel happiness is not limitless. There is an optimal point after which our happiness actually start diminishing, even if we keep increasing the amount of our belongings. 

And it’s something we all experience: you cannot stay with someone 24/7 no matter how much you love her/him, nor can you keep eating ice cream forever even if you are a big fan of Cherry Garcia (that’s me).  We’ve known that “moderation is the key,” even before the minimalist movement.

Zen, or the Buddhism in general, has been pursuing this “optimal point of arousal” for thousands of years. Whereas we almost automatically believed a liner correlation between happiness and the amount of belongings that could satisfy our desires, Buddhism knew that the relationship was a bell-curve with a plateau.

And it resolutely assumed that the highest point could be attained when we minimized the amount of external help, whether it was materials or relationships, to satisfy our desires.

Thanking this superb site for great inspiration in Zen, architecture, art and minimalism interactions... a true goldmine I'm in-debt with. 

No comments: