Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Infinite Choice -- Writer's Poke #282

The average person living in the United States today has more freedom of choice than any person living in the entire history of humankind. But does more choice equate to more happiness? How do we cope with the infinite number of options we "enjoy"?

Psychologists have developed tests that indicate that too many choices lower overall satisfaction levels. In other words, if we have a few options, that's optimal, but when we have to sift through dozens of choices, it's too much for us to handle. We become numb through oversaturation.

Common sense would suggest the truth behind the curse of choice, too. Think about going to the store to buy a box of cereal. Does it really matter that the grocery store stocks a hundred different kinds of cereal, or are you simply going to pick out Honey Nut Cheerios like you have done every previous time? It takes a special kind of person to select an unknown cereral from the more tried and true options available.

Or, think about something you do on a less frequent basis. When you go to buy a gallon of paint, for example, do you like have thirty different shades of yellow to compare, or does the number of options simply become burdensome? After a while, all of the yellows tend to blend together. Who really knows what the yellow will look like on your bedroom wall anyway? So just pick one and be done with it.

Perhaps having too many choices inhibits our ability to choose at all. We simply submit, basically giving up our right to choose by selecting what is most familiar. Or most easy.

Does choice best work in moderation?

"It is the ability to choose which makes us human." -- Madeleine L'Engle

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