Critical Life Decisions


            If all decisions about life were on an equal footing in terms of their impact on life satisfaction, then the task of constructing Life Guidance Directives (LGDs) would be daunting indeed.  Obviously, life choices are not equivalent in importance.  This being said, it is not always obvious which decisions will prove most significant in any given persons life.  Many a fictional drama, and many real lives, have proven that some utterly trifling choice, like running or not running to catch the next subway, can have dramatic life altering impacts, or indeed, can determine if you will continue to live.  Notwithstanding Einstein’s counsel that “god does not play dice with the Universe,” chance events, like accidents, do change lives.  We cannot surrender to this factor of uncertainty by withdrawing from the task of constructing LGDs.  Instead, we must simply live with the understanding that however carefully constructed, LGDs cannot be perfect guarantees of life satisfaction.

            A critical life decision (CLD), is a decision or directive, which will have a large and enduring impact on your life satisfaction.  It is imperative that one develop an early sense of the CLDs.  CLDs play an essential role in implementing a principle in formulating LGDs.  The more critical a CLD, the more time and resources that must be orchestrated in developing your LGD.  This is a law of human consciousness conservation.  Those who fail to appreciate this law, which I call the Rule of Proportionality, are destined to be enslaved by useless obsessive thinking.  More importantly, those who fail to obey this law will inevitably fail to establish essential rules of life satisfaction.  This is the underlying wisdom that dictates the “common sense” that you must see the forest for the trees.

            How do you recognize CLDs?  There are some very simple questions that lead reliably to the identification of critical life decisions.  First, you must determine if the decision is reversible.  More exactly, you need to determine how reversible the decision is and how difficult, or costly (in terms of consequences), it will be to reverse the decision.  The easier it is to undo a decision, the less likely it is that it is CLD.  To cite a very controversial example: The decision to abort a pregnancy, once implemented is absolutely irreversible.  Accordingly, under the reversibility factor, abortion is a CLD.  In stark contrast, your choice of major during your first year of college is typically quite easy to change, and the change usually has tolerable consequences.  Under the reversibility factor, your college major, at least in the first year, does not look like a CLD.  Obviously, reversibility is on a continuum.  It is not all or nothing.  For example, a marriage can be terminated, but the emotional, psychological, social, and financial costs, and barriers, to reversing your marital status are very considerable.

            Second, you must determine if the life choice will have an enduring impact.  Typically, your menu selection on a Saturday night date will impact your gastrointestinal well being for only a few hours.  Alternatively, joining the Marines will have life determining consequence for years.  The adoption of a child can have lifetime consequences.  The more enduring the impact, the more likely it is that your dealing with a CLD.

            Finally, and most difficult, you must determine if the life choice will have a large impact on an area of life directly related to your happiness, i.e., you must determine the happiness impact.  Your choice of mate (marriage partner or co-habitant) is clearly a choice that will have a tremendous impact on life satisfaction.  On the other hand, your choice about which painting to buy to decorate your living room is not likely to have a large impact on your happiness.  CLDs are life pathways that will significantly impact happiness over an extended time and which are difficult to reverse.  The greater the impact on happiness, the more important the CLD. 

The happiness impact factor, however, is difficult to assess because many people really do not fully appreciate what really makes them happy or unhappy.  Confusion between what is socially expected to produce life satisfaction, and what really produces it, is one of the most common sources of life pathway errors.  A large percentage of the population invests incredible effort to acquire life situations that will not make them happy.  Additionally, enormous energies are wasted on decisions that are not CLDs, while actual CLDs are ignored or treated as already determined.  In part, this misallocation of consciousness arises from the fact that trivial decisions are easier to manage and they give one an artificial sense of control over their lives.

            While there is some individuality in determining CLDs, there are also common life choices that almost universally meet the CLD test.  Your choice concerning occupation (or the means by which you will survive financially), your management of money, your mate or marital partner, whether and when to have children, where you live geographically, and certain health habits will profoundly control your life satisfaction.  If, for these CLDs, you make sound choices, you have conferred a powerful resistance to adversity and you will have created a foundation for true pleasure.  Indeed, these CLDs are so important that they can even confer a reistance to bad choices in other arenas.  Alternatively, a poor choice in any one of these areas can be so devastating in terms of its impact, that happiness becomes almost impossible.  In fact, you will discover that the importance of most decisions ultimately rests on their consequence in these few CLD arenas.  Thus, for example, many of your educational choices will be significant only insofar as they are really components or instrumentalities of your occupational choice.  In this sense, occupational choice is the primary CLD, while educational choices are secondary CLDs.  Keeping a perspective on the differences between primary and secondary CLDs is a crucial aspect of preserving life perspective.