A cheese burger or a Salad, skinny jeans or regular, the rich guy or the funny guy, move to that city or stay, it goes on and on, decisions decisions decisions. I wish we never had to make them. I wish we could automatically tell which will lead to doom and which to prosperity, to satisfaction. But sadly, we don’t. We use our logic, our belief, our hearts, to make from the most mundane of decisions to life changing ones, and keep our fingers crossed – Lord, let the salad keep me skinny, the jeans curvy, the rich guy satisfied, and the city on my toes.
One of the major factors which makes decision making so dame difficult for most of us, actually i’m pretty confident that it is THE major factor, is that we’re making it in the 21st century. The amount of choices we, the fortunate yet doomed, are provided with today have doubled and quadrupled. Not only do i have to decide between a cheese burger and a salad, but ones i’ve made the painful decision of having the salad, i have to know if i want romaine or spinach, Italian dressing or ranch, blu cheese or feta – whatever happened to ordering salad and just getting SALAD!
As frustrating as not getting a simple salad can be, most of us can live with it, it’s the world we’ve been born into, having countless choices is the norm. If given the choice, we’ll choose having choices. It becomes a problem when the decision we’re making is a life changing one, where on road will lead to prosperity and the other despair. The process at times puts our psychological well being at risk. I believe it to be even worse for the young, where the decisions we make now have the potential to shape the rest of our lives. Dare i say it suffocates young women today more so than men, more so than women of the previous generations?
You see women of our mothers generation more or less had a general idea of what they wanted, they wanted to finish school ( high school was enough) wanted to marry – a man who had a job, from a good family, a family man himself, they wanted kids. Chances are, that’s how they lived there lives – they didn’t have the “luxury of choice.” I ( probably including most of my peers), on the hand, have never really been sure of what i want. Actually let me rephrase that, I know what I want, the problem is I want it all. Yes, i want a handsome and devoted husband, 3 kids, a phd and look fabulous while i’m at it. And when i turn on the TV everyday, it’s telling me yes, you can have it all, and of course everyday i fall into the illusion – deeper and deeper.
The reality, as harsh as it sounds, is we can’t have it all – we of course don’t realize this, so when we don’t get it all we feel like we’ve failed, that we’re less than, we witness our self worth slowly diminishing. The process of such thinking leads us to stress, depression at its worse.
Thankfully most problems have potential solutions. It was when i was going through such thinking – questioning my self worth – that i run into a book which i felt answered some of my questions on reducing stress in decision making. The Paradox of Choice by professor Barry Schwartz gives a wonderful insight on how having choices isn’t always beneficial. You see, more choices doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, in fact it seems the exact opposite is true. Having too many choices today has more of a debilitating effect than a liberating one.
This realization has had quite an effect on me – now when i go to the store, i pick up the same laundry detergent i started using years ago, after having randomly picked it – sick of going through all the brands. I don’t give myself a headache trying to decide whether i’ve picked the best one. I ask the women at the restaurant to pick whatever salad she feels is best. I’ve started understanding that i can’t have it all, at least, not all at the same time – i’ve learned to live with that and i believe i’m better off for it. Most importantly i’ve learned to realize that i need to make choices based on what I want and not be dictated by my surrounding.
Living in a capitalist world, our illusion of free choice will most likely continue. Most of us will keep being driven by what the current norm is when making decisions, we will keep putting our deep needs and desires on the side attempting to get it all. At the end of the day isn’t having a broad range of choices better than no choice at all? I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors – Fyodor Dostoyevsky ( Notes from the Underground)
“One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy — is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.”