One would think that freedom – especially freedom of choice – would make us happier. The more choices we have – things to do, own and other lifestyle choices – should increase our satisfaction with life. Right?
Maybe not. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it the “paradox of choice”. Renata Salecl, a philosopher, sociologist and legal theorist, points out in a TED talk that people often choose by guessing what others will think about their choice, what they think others will choose and what is socially acceptable. Sometimes, in response to the anxiety of all that, people end up not making a choice at all. Schwartz put it this way: the result of too many choices is paralysis.
Faced with a multitude of choices, each choice becomes more difficult. My recent trip to the grocery store was a perfect example – rows and rows of spaghetti sauce and I had to choose one! Even this simple choice was fraught with a low level of anxiety.
What if I pick this one? Even if it was good, would one of the ones I passed up be better? Maybe if I spend a little more, I would get a better sauce. Would a cheaper sauce taste the same? If I saved money on the sauce I could buy some gourmet pasta too! And who is responsible for choice should it prove to be not so great sauce – me!
Now yes this is silly related to spaghetti sauce but what about a job or a car or a house or a partner? Will we always be dissatisfied and wonder what else is out there and blame ourselves if things don’t go well?
Back to the spaghetti sauce. It wasn’t that anxiety producing because I based it on the most important criteria to me – the sugar content. In satisfying my most important need, I could accept my choice without reservation. This is why I think people who make an effort to simplify their lives are happier. They determine what is really important to them and base their decisions on those values alone!
I’m already considering making 2015 the year of simplicity. I think of my morning – which shampoo, conditioner, which scent of body wash, how do I style my hair, what clothes do I wear today, which shoes, which eye shadow, which color eyeliner and lipstick, which sunglasses do I wear, which coat? It is dizzying.
By having less and really honing in on what is really important to me, will I actually find more freedom? Stay tuned.