Grateful Sunday #81: The Paradox of Choice & What To Do About It

The “success” of modernity turns out to be bittersweet, and everywhere we look it appears that a significant contributing factor is the overabundance of choice. Having too many choices produces psychological distress, especially when combined with regret, concern about status, adaptation, social comparison, and perhaps most
important, the desire to have the best of everything—to maximize.

I believe there are steps we can take to mitigate—even eliminate—many of these sources of distress, but they aren’t easy. They require practice, discipline, and perhaps a new way of thinking. On the other hand, each of these steps will bring its own rewards.


  1. Choose When to Choose
    If the ‘ability to choose’ gets you “better” (car, house, job, coffeemaker, etc.), but the process of choosing makes you net feel worse about what you’ve chosen…you have not really gained anything from the opportunity.
  2. Be a Chooser, Not a Picker
    Choosers have the time to modify their goals; pickers do not. Choosers have the time to avoid following the herd; pickers do not. Good decisions take time and attention, and the only way we can find the needed time and attention is by mindfully choosing how we budget time.
  3. Think About the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs
    Don’t “scratch” unless there’s an “itch.”
  4. Make Your Decisions Non-Reversible
    Knowing that you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the decision you’ve made, rather than constantly second-guessing it.
  5. Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”
    We can vastly improve our subjective experience by consciously striving to be grateful more often for what is good about a choice or an experience, and to be disappointed less by what is bad about it.
  6. Regret Less
    It pays to remember just how complex life is and to realize how rare it is that any single decision, in and of itself, has the life-transforming power we sometimes think.
  7. Anticipate Adaptation
    We can’t prevent adaptation. What we can do is develop realistic expectations about how experiences change with time. Our challenge is to remember that the high-quality sound system, the luxury car, and the ten-thousand-square-foot house won’t keep providing the pleasure they give when we first experience them. Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into mere comforts will ease disappointment with adaptation when it occurs.
  8. Control Expectations
    What may be the easiest route to increasing satisfaction with the results of decisions is to remove excessively high expectations about them.
  9. Curtail Social Comparison
    Though social comparison can provide useful information, it often reduces our satisfaction. So by comparing ourselves to others less, we will be satisfied more.
  10. Learn to Love Constraints
    By deciding to follow a rule (for example, “always wear a seat belt”), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.



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