Does choice lead to happiness?

too much choice leads to confusionThis month I’ve been rewriting my personal story.

Stop and think for a moment how you describe yourself to yourself and others. I’ll bet most of you say unkind, judgemental or critical things about yourself. Things that you would never say or think about others.

Some of the stuff I say about myself are that I can’t focus; I can only multi task. Actually, that’s the kind way of putting it; I’m easily distracted.

I also say, and this one really hurts, I can’t make a decision.

Choice paralysis

I’m crap at making decisions; I weigh everything up, both sides of any decision and create a few more sides just for luck. I’ll spend days agonising over a decision. I think I’m making good use of resources, getting the best I can, making the right decision and not rushing headstrong into something I don’t want, but that’s not quite true. I’m procrastinating, unable to make a choice.

The result?

I get paralysed.

Freedom of choice

With so much choice (does the phrase ‘freedom of choice’ resonate?) I find myself in situations where it is impossible to choose at all.

To me, too much choice is not a good thing that is a measure of my affluence as the marketers might have me believe; it is a bind, a burden.

When I needed a new laptop it took me weeks to choose and I became more and more despondent. I would audibly sigh when I knew the need to make that decision was getting closer.
Do I go for a big screen, a small screen, extra RAM, 2 USB ports, a DVD burner, quad core, which processor works best, do I need external back up? The list went on and on and I knew full well that within a week or so, something BETTER would come along.

This or that?

Recently my car insurance needed renewing; I looked at companies, browsed the various options and nearly cried. I simply couldn’t make a decision, so I went with the company I used last year.

The same with changing my energy supplier. By the way I worked through all the tarif options – standing charge vs no standing charge, online account vs paper account, green tarif using wind or water I didn’t need to turn the heating up on that cold winter day; I was already breaking out into a sweat just thinking about it.

This week I wanted to buy a book on EFT for kids. I got onto Amazon and guess what? An hour later I still hadn’t bought anything – the choice was too much.

And how many of you have unworn clothes in your wardrobe? Clothes with the tags still attached that you just had to buy?

Disappointing right?

Too much choice

Well here’s the truth of it; too much choice delivers paralysis rather than the liberation we are promised.

With more choices, your expectation increases which means the room for disappointment increases.

Take buying a plain t-shirt. You can get v-neck, round neck, scoop neck, sweetheart neckline, striped, plain, pattered, short sleeve, cap sleeve, three quarter sleeve – you get the picture and then you have to choose the perfect colour!
If you walked into a shop needing a t-shirt and all was available was a round neck blue t-shirt, you’d buy it, get it home, wear it, it might not fit well, but you’d learn to live with it. It might not be great, but it would be ok and hey, it’s not your fault because it’s all that was available. The manufacturer or shop is responsible because that’s all you can get.

But if you had lots of choice and buy something that was not great, you think YOU are responsible. You should have done better with all those choices, so the onus falls on you. You blame yourself and the pattern continues. You need to buy something different to see if that is better. We are all having experiences that are so disappointing because our expectations are so high and we’re blaming ourselves for not making a better choice.

You might have a better t-shirt than the blue one, but with all the options available, your expectations about how good the new t-shirt should be have increased so much that you feel worse.

Expectations and satisfaction

With one choice, you have low expectations. As choice increases, so does expectation – leading to more disappointment. When you’re living with constantly high expectations you can never be pleasantly surprised!

We’re also less satisfied. Take salad dressing; I bet you can find 50 different types in your local supermarket. How do you choose? What are the real differences? Which is the product which will give you the best value for money?

If you get your salad dressing home and it’s not perfect, it’s easy to imagine you could have made a different choice that would have been better. This sense of regret or ‘could do better’ detracts from the satisfaction you’re getting from your salad dressing EVEN IF IT’S GOOD.
The little voice in the back of your mind is wondering if it could have been better.

More choice leads to more disappointment

The more options there are the easier it is to regret your decision. Even when what we choose is fabulous.

Whenever you make a decision about one product, you’re choosing NOT to experience another and this is where dissatisfaction can set in.

The bottom line is some choice is better than none, but more choice is NOT better than some choice.

How do we achieve balance in an affluent country? I don’t know – manufacturers know only too well that too much choice leads to disappointment which means we’ll buy the next ‘fix’, but you can at least stop blaming yourself for making ‘bad choices’ because now you know why!

Tell me your story – were you satisfied or disappointed with your latest purchase?


  1. Sue on December 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    I agree and disagree with you on choice!
    I like to have choice, I really enjoy researching! When I want to buy something I like to shop around, check it all out, write it all down, chew it all over and then buy. I rarely buy spontaneously.
    I guess if there wasn’t the choice I would have to go along with what I could get, but then would probably not buy at all.
    One of my recent purchases was a cross stitch magazine, now that opens up a whole new choice problem, too many charts to stitch, too little time!! I have actually gone for a day when I could have been stitching, and even finished something, but not started because I couldn’t decide which one to do!! lol!
    I would be very disappointed if I couldn’t choose organic, or had to go with what is in fashion! Something I have noticed is that Black Forest Gateaux was in fashion a few years ago, all the shops sold it, and then about 3 years ago, do you think I could find one – no! This year I visited most of the supermarkets (doing my own shopping, taking Mum or Muminlaw) and out of the 6 main shops only 2 of them had BFG!! Slightly off topic. But I would rather go without rather than buying something else!

  2. mike on January 15, 2010 at 2:42 am

    I like choice but not when its overwhelming. To much choice stresses me out, like the cheescake factory, great food but there is so many choices I would rather not go!