Happiness is having choices, right?


Among the many ways we can go wrong with something that feels like truth, there is our popular thought that choice equals freedom, and choice (therefore?) means happiness.

Of course, if you are forced into a certain way of living and you don’t like it, it’s not a good situation to be in.
If you aren’t able to make the major decisions in your life, you will probably not be too happy about it.

In fact, if you just somehow, through little insults and nagging thoughts, come to feel that you fundamentally lack control over your life, that there is nothing you could do that would matter anything, you are slipping down the slope into depression.

The feeling of self-efficacy, of at least some control over one’s life, is an essential human need and may well be one of the main drivers of, well, pretty much all learning and adventure and entrepreneurial venture.

If you read that statement about (not) being able to decide about major life decisions and thought of things like forced marriages, then it fit very well with the notion of happiness equaling choice(s).

Ego Depletion

The problem, however, is that a surfeit of choices the likes of which we often face nowadays makes it (only too) easy for us to end up unable to make choices.

Not because we are forced into certain paths, but because we are not.

When you have an endless array of possible options, many of them actually quite meaningless, then deciding on one of them can become an outright burden – or even an impossibility.

And it’s not just something like whom to date and marry, or even whether you really want to date and/or marry anyone (or one person, or several, or one after the other, or someone of the same or opposite gender, or something else entirely…).

Nowadays, what clothes to put on and what to have for breakfast can make for difficult decisions that already drain willpower, right from the start of the day.

By the time you need to pick something for lunch, you have had to make so many dumb little decisions, you will not have the willpower to resist junk food, if that’s your poison, let alone make (m)any sensible decisions that count.

It’s called “ego depletion,” the draining of willpower…

In this regard, liberal permissiveness and an economy based all around consumer choice – as much as both of those may actually be limited much more than we can often see, just not compared to illiberal societies and planned markets of the worst kind – are not a contribution to happiness.

In fact, in draining the power to decide and do what really matters, they are an active hindrance to a good life, a better world, and even just the freedom to decide, when and where it matters.

Overcoming The Paradox of Choice

And when you managed to make a choice, anyways?

Then “the paradox of choice” raises another ugly head: The more choice there is, all the more so when the decision can be revised, the less happy any one choice is likely to make.

After all, maybe the one choice made was not the best one, given that there were oh-so-many other possibilities.

It is a lot, actually, like regret in life decisions: The typical regret one faces is that over experiences missed and opportunities not taken.

Or at least, one way, taken decisively. Phrase from Karen Coates' book "This Way More Better. Stories and Photos from Asia's Back Roads."

Or at least, one way, taken decisively. Phrase from Karen Coates’ book “This Way More Better. Stories and Photos from Asia’s Back Roads.

Take a chance, and (as long as it doesn’t end up fatal), you will either have a memorable experience or, well, a memorable experience. It may turn out good or bad, but typically, our memories will turn it into either a memory that is good or a memory that makes for a great life lesson or a good story.

The important thing is taking the chance and doing something.

It is the same thing with all those major decisions: They have to be done and followed through on.

Having too much choice and the chance to repeal a decision, change one’s mind, makes the same memory system that would spin a memorable experience out of just about any decision/experience go into overdrive considering all the alternatives… and doubt and unhappiness results.

So, the counter-intuitive way to a good life lies not in the easy and logical – but wrong – comfort of manifold choice, always and everywhere, but in the pleasure of no choice, too:

Get rid of insignificant little choices that don’t much matter.

Decide on a style, establish your wardrobe, and quit the ‘need’ to decide what you wear while you stand shivering in front of your wardrobe.

Establish a breakfast, and other, routines and stick to them, make them habits, so you are free to decide when and where it matters.

“Satisfice” yourself about the choice(s) you have, make a choice with determination, and then go, without a chance for a cop-out.