The Paradox of Choice

We have so many choices to make when it comes to communication, work-life balance, making important purchases and what dressing we want to put on our salads. And while we are making up our minds, it’s so easy to imagine that we could have made a better decision than the one we ended up settling for. The key word here is settling. Our culture is trained to believe that we are settling for less than, due to the endless amount of options in front of us which carry unexplored potential. These imagined alternatives induce us to regret our choice which then subtracts from our satisfaction. So you may think your girlfriend is pretty great. She’s good looking and funny but there are so many more girls on Tinder you really wanted to see if you had a shot at and those unexplored options will leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Our parents didn’t have the temptation from texts from their significant others during family dinners like we do. We are left with the enticement to answer immediately but what are the consequences we face for doing so? We leave the moment; enter into “the cloud” of technology that transmits us to another dimension away from the interactions directly in front of us and into ones with far less capacity for emotion. This compromises our family interactions and our ability to build relationships. This same concept is demonstrated in all aspects of communication when we are provided with the opportunity to communicate through our devices rather than our mouths, and with emojis instead of our own natural expressions.

If you center your life on the concept of “all or nothing,” chances are, you will lack the ability to live in the now and will be unable to embrace the moment. The more we stress the “all” the more we’re actually hindering ourselves because we’re becoming incapable of enjoying our present circumstances. The word “all” is heavy with options and due to our consumerist culture; we have high expectations that can never seem to be met. Having more options does not always mean access to greater freedom. Instead, we are becoming more restricted and disappointed by the display of choices provided to us because no matter how well thought out our decisions may be, chances are there will always be something better that comes along soon after. How can something that is supposed to be freeing at the same time restrict us and bind us with indecisiveness and self-doubt? This is the paradox of choice and we all experience it. We live with this contradiction on a far greater scale than our parents did and even more so than our grandparents did and it’s only going to get worse. It’s important that we realize how much unnecessary stress we are adding to our lives in hopes of decreasing the pressure we put on ourselves and better managing our self-pity post purchases.

How do we fight back this marketed mentality? The only option is to lower our expectations. We need to be realistic and accept the fact that things don’t usually go as planned. Sure, it’s ideal that they do but think about how it rained the day of your prom and how you got sick on your birthday or how you got that flat tire in the snowstorm. Things happen that are out of our control and they don’t stop just because we have big plans. We have the ability to be more mindful of our expectations and to take a step back, allowing ourselves to realize that there is always room for error, even if we didn’t leave any, the chances are that it will find one way or another to squeeze it’s naughty self in to our plans.


So instead of being confident in our decision making abilities, we are constantly underperforming because there will always be something better. Now what kind of world is that? No wonder why depression is so common these days. We’re so hard on ourselves when we realistically are just trying to get by in this crazy culture that tells us who we are and how to act and what we need to be our best selves.

So sure, we have tons of decisions to make… what happens to us when the decision we made turns out to be the wrong one? Or maybe it’s not the wrong one and it just feels like it because of all the other options you have yet to explore. How are we to fight this enigma when our expectations are far too high to ever be fulfilled?

So, if we just lower our expectations, then we’ll be happy, right? But what about all of the expectations from the people around you? How do those perspectives affect you? How do we lower our expectations when the expectations of our peers, and our parents and our boss and our boss’s boss are all just as high, if not higher? We do the best we can and accept our final decisions with confidence, learn from any mistakes we will make along the way and don’t stress the small stuff. Moving forward in life with and open heart and open mind is the only way we can possibly find peace.

Life should be all about learning what makes you happy, what you like and what you don’t, what works and what doesn’t to conjure up support to our internal consciousness.

Watch Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk to hear more about the Paradox of Choice. Essentially Barry Schwartz challenges the claim our Western culture has imagined for us, that more choices= more freedom= welfare & happiness. Keep in mind this was filmed in 2005, so take a second to think about how this theory has maybe improved or gotten worse over the last 10 years.