Anti Optimization in Life

In today’s crazy technological world, we are always trying to “optimize” our lives. But what does “optimize” really even mean, and is it actually something desirable, to have the most optimized life?

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I was doing some research on Wiktionary and discovered that the root word for “optimize” actually is from the Latin word, “optimus”, which we know in English as “optimal”.

Optimus means the best/perfect.

Prime means “first”.

So I guess the reason why Optimus Prime (transformers) got his name was that he was the first Autobot, and supposedly, “the best” or “most perfect” version of an Autobot.

Anyways in today’s world, when we are trying to “optimize” our lives, we are simply trying to improve or better our lives. And I think the ultimate goal is for us to obtain a “perfect” life, or to obtain the best life possible.

But, is there even such thing as a “perfect” life, and even if it did exist, would it be desirable?


So there’s a lot of ancient literature that goes back to this notion of “Elysium” which is supposed to be paradise. Homer says in The Odyssey:

to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men. — Homer, Odyssey

So essentially paradise.

Easy living, ideal weather, and a life of pure joy.

According to Eustathius of Thessaloniki, the word “Elysium” is derived from Greek to mean “to be deeply stirred from joy”.

So essentially, when we are optimizing our lives, we are seeking to create some sort of paradise for our soul, a lifestyle with no suffering, pain, plentiful devices and wifi, and to always be “stirred with joy”.

In other words,

We want to keep “optimizing” our lives, to increase the joy/happiness in our lives to the greatest possible extent.

Now, let me share why I think this notion of “optimizing” life is bad and dangerous.

First of all, when people say “optimize”, what they really mean to say is to “make more efficient” (like what you do with your schedule or computer). But the problem is this: increasing your efficiency in life will not necessarily produce more joy in your life. I think the best way to increase joy in your life is to make more stuff, make more art, interact more with other humans, and to do more meaningful activities in life. Making our schedules more “efficient” by buying more devices won’t be effective in creating more joy in our lives.

Anti digital assistants

We are currently seeing a huge influx of these new “smart devices” (Amazon Alexa for home, Apple Home pod, Google home, etc) enter the marketplace and into our lives. These devices promise to make us happier in life, by making decisions for us; what music to listen to, to create the ideal temperature inside our homes (Nest), or to be more informed with the stock market (to eventually increase our money, which we believe will make us more joyful in life).

But the problem is this: we enter this loop of predetermined decisions. We actually lose freedom in our everyday lives, because we get “nudged” into making these minute everyday decisions (I follow in the footsteps of Nassim Taleb in being anti Richard Thaler and other “nudge” behavioral economists).

I think true joy in life comes from randomness, chaos, and unpredictablity. Life would have no fun or zest if we already knew our future and our day with 100% perfect accuracy. It’s like watching a movie if you get a “spoiler” before you watch it; you lose all incentive to watch the film, because films are more fun when you get surprised, shocked, or get a “plot twist” somewhere in the end!

So friend, to conclude:

Don’t seek to optimize your life (according to the modern definition). Seek to produce more joy in your life by producing more artistic stuff!

Make more art and create more joy in your life.


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