Where should we order dinner from? What kind of toothpaste do you want? Those may seem like simple questions until you start looking at all your options.
They can be endless, and a simple and largely inconsequential decision can easily become a stressful and potentially regrettable decision. The paradox of choice is that the more options a person has, the harder and less rewarding they become.
Happiness does depend, in part, on choices. You want to be able to have some options in certain situations. But the more options you’re presented with, the greater the chances for regret, and the smaller the chance is to make the “right” choice.
Research has found that simply making choices can be exhausting, particularly when options exist for nearly everything.
One study showed that having more shopping choices interfered with people’s ability to pay attention and complete simple arithmetic problems. Suppose you want to focus your attention on something or have the emotional capacity to handle challenging situations. In that case, it might be best to limit the number of choices you make beforehand.
Psychologists have also identified two groups of people based on how they make decisions. If you’re someone who won’t settle for “second best” or constantly needs to evaluate all options to find the best deal, you’re likely a “maximizer.”
On the other hand, if you have a standard for what you want – either high or low – for what you want in a given circumstance, you’re likely a “satisficer.”
Some research that followed college students for a year found that maximizers made the “best” choices based on certain criteria. They found the “best” jobs with salaries that started at 20 percent more than satisficers.
But it was not all good. Maximizers experienced much more negative emotion while going through their job search and, after being hired, were less happy than their classmates who found jobs they considered “good enough.”
So who really made the best decision? Those who started out making a little more money or those with more happiness?
Spiritual retreats or meditation tend to limit choices purposefully. When you eat or savour whatever is offered or don’t have to choose an outfit or the day’s agenda, it can be freeing and help you stay focused.
Happiness can come from simplicity to a degree. Take a moment to look at the things you don’t really care about and limit the choice in your life.