Why More Choices Are Making You Unhappy

Have you ever walked into Subway sandwich shop and found yourself unable to decide on which veggies you want to add on your sub ? of course, you have; everybody has, at one point or another. I bet the same indecisiveness crowds your mind when you are standing in the middle of a food court filled with all kinds of fast food outlets and you are paralyzed with the sheer number of choices you are facing. For many of us, the solution is auto-pilot.

A lot of people, including me, when faced with too many choices with no clear advantage over one another, simply choose the first thing that comes to our minds. That explains why I always find that ordering at the Subway a baffling experience. I, a fully grown man, dumb founded by having to choose between 7 types of bread 4 types of cheese. None of those breads are better than the other and I have little to no idea about the difference in the taste among those cheeses. In auto-pilot though, I decide in a matter of seconds and never get flustered. ‘Six-inch oven-roasted chicken sub with swiss cheese on flat bread, please’ – that is the easiest thing for me to say without thinking and I have done it innumerable times. I do it not because I particularly like oven roasted chicken sub on flat bread nor do I love swiss cheese, but because I rather pick something blindly that is good enough than go through the ordeal of choosing between painfully large set of options all in pursuit of getting me the best possible sandwich. Selecting the condiments is a different story. This is a phenomenon best explained with a TED talk.

Barry Schwartz is a psychologist and researcher in the field of Social Theory. He is also an author of number of books on psychology of human behavior and his articles frequent magazines like the New York Times. In this TED talk, Barry Schwartz lays out a compelling case for why more choices are not necessarily good things and more importantly why having too many choices makes us unhappy. His story about select Jeans is sure to resonate with many of us.

With great narrative, backed with research, Mr.Schwartz makes it clear that too many choices actually hinder our ability to think straight. We have enough things to think about already and having to quickly decide between Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sprite and Dr.Pepper only makes us more stressed. The distractions we are facing everywhere is beyond anything our brain has evolved for and we have to consciously make effort to just focus for a mere minutes at a stretch. This idea of many choices and the so-called freedom to choose whatever we want is a false choice by any measure and it is hurting us from making the real and meaningful decisions of our lives.

Like Mr.Schwartz points out, these excessive choices also inflate our expectations which can keep us unsatisfied with anything we choose and there by leading to more stress, anxiety and ultimately unhappiness. By reducing the choices we subject ourselves to everyday and when we do make choices, by being more mindful of them, we can clear our minds off clutter and be confident in our choices and the resulting outcomes and ultimately that is the state of mind that can truly make us happy.


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