Too much choice is a recipe for unhappiness, anxiety and dissatisfaction with life

“After millions of years of survival based on simple distinctions, it may simply be that we are biologically unprepared for the number of choices we face in the modern world” Schwartz, 2004

Economists and business leaders tell us that more choice is better.  But, the truth is that if you had unlimited access to all the goodies in the world, you’d probably be miserable. Why? Because, according to research, unlimited choice opens the door to regret, self-doubt and dissatisfaction.

Watch Barry Schwartz talk about the Paradox Of Choice in the video below.

The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less

paradox of choiceBarry Schwartz’s highly influential 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice, turned traditional thinking about wealth, consumerism and modern life on its head. Rather than increasing our sense of well-being,Schwartz says that too many choices in life can cause paralysis as well as increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time.

To illustrate, Schwartz makes the distinction between two types of people, maximizers, – who are not happy until they have obtained the best, and satisficers, who tend to settle for what’s ‘good enough’. Studies show that maximizers are less happy, less optimistic, and have lower self-esteem than satisficers.

How We Become Less Satisfied

In the Paradox of Choice, Schwartz explains the steps in the process that make us less satisfied.

  1. You imagine you could have made a better choice.
  2. You regret the decision, thinking it’s not perfect.
  3. You imagine what you didn’t choose is better than what you did choose.
  4. Your expectations escalate.
  5. You have less satisfaction with the results even with good results.
  6. It’s no longer possible for you to experience pleasant surprises.
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How to Embrace Your Limitations

Fortunately, Schwartz outlines several ways you can become more satisfied with what you have.

  1. Lower your expectations.
  2. Practise self-restraint.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others.
  4. Be grateful for what you have.

So next time you feel paralysed by having too many options, remember these tips, and maybe you’ll discover that sometimes happiness comes from limiting our choices, rather than increasing them.