By Jane Harkness
From The Peaceful Dumpling
Consumers today have more options than ever—no matter what you’re looking for, you basically have countless choices. Thinking of switching to a new toothpaste? You have hundreds of brands to judge. Want to start incorporating some protein powder into your morning smoothies? Well, get ready to do hours of research on all the different ingredients and nutrition profiles. Popping into the grocery store to grab a snack? You have aisles and aisles of similar products to put in your cart. Planning on having a movie night? It’s not like the days when you pop over to Blockbuster and see what kind of selection they had (sometimes that feels like ancient history). Now, any film you could possibly want to see is available online for only a couple of dollars. Even when it comes to media consumption, you’re not limited to the major news networks on TV—you can also check out plenty of alternative media platforms and hear any point of view out there.
But is all of this choice actually making us happier? We tend to assume that it must be. After all, having so many choices means that we can essentially customize our lives to our liking. We can be picky about everything from the brand of olive oil we use to the mattress we sleep on to the glass cleaner we spray on our windows. We can learn about any topic we want, from any perspective we want, in a wide variety of mediums. We can carefully design every aspect of our lives, from our particular skincare routines to our supplement regimens to the furniture in our living rooms.
However, research shows that having endless choices actually leaves us feeling overwhelmed, confused, and unhappy—not more satisfied. Just take a moment and think of the last time you walked past the pasta section at your usual grocery store. How many boxes of plain, white pasta from different brands were sitting on the shelves? Look, at the end of the day, spaghetti is spaghetti. But today, you’re faced with a choice between ten different “types” of spaghetti, all with a slightly different logo yet essentially the same ingredients.
All of this decision making takes time and energy. And we can end up being torn between two products that are exactly the same. When it comes to media consumption, we’re bombarded with headline after headline and soundbite after soundbite each day, struggling to process all of the information we’re taking in and decide what we believe—or what sources are worth listening to. In short, we’re overloaded.
The phrase “paradox of choice” sums it up—we think that having so many choices available will make us more satisfied, but because there aren’t significant differences between most of these choices, and we don’t draw many benefits from the extra time we spend making a final decision, it actually just makes us feel frustrated.
This concept is also sometimes referred to as “the tyranny of choice”—it sounds extreme, but when you consider how many times each day we’re faced with evaluating an impossible number of options to make the right decision, there’s some truth to this statement!
So, what can you do to simplify things? How can you refuse to get bogged down by the paradox of choice?
- Start by limiting your general screen time, the people you follow on social media, and the amount of media you consume—which, in turns, drastically limits your exposure to ads. With so many social media accounts basically serving as glorified advertising platforms these days, remembering that so much of the seemingly “authentic” content you see is actually just marketing never hurts.
- Take a shopping list. Going shopping just to “browse” is a surefire way to end up getting distracted by an array of choices, so make sure to take a list and focus on getting what you need. Want to make your grocery shopping experience a little faster and easier? Try doing your shopping at a smaller store like Aldi, which has more limited options, but very affordable prices and plenty of organic selections. It can cut your shopping time and your grocery budget in half.
- Give yourself a time limit for online shopping. When you’re on a website like Amazon, you can choose from what feels like every product on earth, but don’t let yourself get caught up in it. Decide on your price range, and set a timer to give yourself ten minutes for research.
With a little strategizing, you can make all of these choices work for you, not against you. It’s so easy to give away our time and attention today, but we still do have the power to simplify our lives.