Happiness Is Fewer Choices

Think about the last time you had a mind-boggling array of choices before you. Maybe you were scanning a buffet or researching colleges or just trying to pick a cereal. Did you feel happy with your selection? 

It seems so counterintuitive, but over and over again studies on happiness have shown that the more choices we have the less happy we are. When I initially read about this in my most recent issue of Psychology Today, I was skeptical. That’s what makes our country so great, right? I loved knowing that growing up I could be anything I wanted to be. It brings me great joy that Starbucks has 20 different latte/espresso drinks that come in every conceivable personal variation I can concoct.

The concept of more options leading to less happiness is a term psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.” While on the surface we think having more choices will help us find happiness, more often it stresses us out, and then makes us wonder what we’re missing and if it’s better than what we picked.

When I looked at it that way, it made sense. It made me think of all the times I’ve gone out to eat with friends and I finally decide on something on the menu that sounds amazing only to wish I’d ordered the same thing someone else did once the food arrives.

And that’s just a small example.

Then I started thinking about everything from relationships to where we choose to live. When it comes to relationships, the possibilities are endless. It provides an optimal excuse (and sometimes legitimate reason) for breaking up: “I just didn’t think he/she was ‘The One’.”

We have so many choices when it comes to partners; it’s easy to fall into the trap of, “Am I missing something (or someone) better?” (I’m reminded of the Death Cab for Cutie song “Cath” lyrics, “But you said your vows/And you closed the door/On so many men/Who would of loved you more”) It’s a real concern. (Yes, it’s crossed my mind once or twice seeing as how I’m getting married in May.)

So how do you know if he/she’s the one? Well, you don’t, and you never will. Oh, and there isn’t just “one” anyway. The reality is, as unromantic as it is: Are you able to be satisfied with your choice? (And yes, I’m very satisfied with my choice … most of the time.)

As for places to live, I always thought I made the best choice ever by moving to Southern California. I live right next the beach, I mean c’mon, how could I have possibly picked a more happy-inducing location?

Well, then I had a friend who picked up and went off to teach English in Barcelona. Listening to her exotic stories made me feel lame and boring. I’ve been to Barcelona, and it is definitely one of my favorite places on Earth. A whole city of night owls that operate on my time clock, amazing architecture, museums, culture, and a phenomenal nightlife. Oh, and it has a beach too. So for a while, I thought I would have been much happier if I’d done that instead.

But then it comes back to the same question: Are you able to be satisfied with your choice and rediscover what it was about the place you live that made you happy to begin with? (I love the quirky culture of San Clemente, we have the best neighbors ever, and we’re exactly halfway between two of the coolest cities in the country: San Diego and Los Angeles.)

So yes, many choices do bring to the forefront all of the other possibilities we abandon when we finally make a selection, and it might bring some short-term unhappiness. However, this process also forces us to examine why we made the choices we did in the first place. And in the long-run, evaluating our choices will ultimately lead to greater, lasting happiness.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Goals Update:
I accomplished all of three of my most important things today:

  • I applied to one freelance writing job.
  • I exercised. I went on a 45-minute run with Adam.
  • I wrote this post.

 
Other Goals I Met Today:

  • I wrote one thank-you note.
  •  

Tomorrow’s 3 Most Important Things:

  • Get my friends safely to the airport so they can make their flight to their anniversary vacation in Jamaica.
  • Write a thank-you note.
  • Write a post.
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3 Responses to Happiness Is Fewer Choices

  1. jennifer says:

    this was a very thought-provoking post, Laura Lee! it falls around a lot of what i think about sometimes–how do you know when something’s right? i mean, it’s not always that easy to tell when something’s wrong, which makes knowing if something is right even harder!

    i think a lot of that “what if” you talked about comes from people’s belief that things could’ve been different in the past “if only.” i used to be one of those people (what if my ex-boyfriend and i hadn’t broken up? what if i decided not to move to California after college?)…until i came across this quote the other day that truly (and finally) put it all into perspective for me:

    “Let go of the belief that the past could have been any different,”—anonymous

    it’s totally true. LET GO of the “what ifs!” things couldn’t have been any different. they wouldn’t have been any different. and there’s nothing you could’ve done to make them different.

    i’m with you–i don’t believe in the “one.” i don’t believe in soul mates or romantic destiny (except in fiction, of course!). but i do believe that sometimes in life we find someone who fits us—our goals, our dreams, our beliefs, our morals, our values—and we end up with them because of that.
    that doesn’t necessarily make them “the one.” or the “only person in the world perfect for you.” as those are both pretty illogical statements.

    but i can say that i am damn happy with my current choice. 🙂

  2. Laura Lee says:

    Thanks, Jen! Yes, letting go and putting aside all the “what if” statements in general is a process that is much easier said than done. It’s also a process you can’t rush. I’m getting better about this though; it’s becoming a little easier. I’ll be writing on something similar to this again soon. I read a great quote over the weekend that I want to share.

  3. Love, love, love this post! It’s so well written and so TRUE. Thank you for this. And thank you for commenting on The Happiness Project and posting this link. Otherwise I never would have found it. 🙂

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