In every aspect of daily life there are many different choices and decisions to be made and constantly trying to make the ‘right choice’ can be a source of stress. Whilst we might think that having more choices in life must be better, research suggests that this is not so. According to social psychologists, increased wealth and too much choice – the paradox of choice (a term coined by Schwartz in 2004) – have resulted in reduced happiness and wellbeing in the most affluent societies.
Having too muchness can add to daily stress levels: this can involve decisions on everything from which toothpaste or jeans to buy, to whether to take pharmaceutical drugs or seek an alternative solution for health problems. In 2015, Tesco’s boss Dave Lewis has deliberately reduced the choice of products in store in response to this realisation and Jeremy Corbyn advocated re-nationalisation of rail and utility services to make choices fairer and less stressful for consumers (Jeffries, 2015). But not everyone reacts the same…
Are You a Maximizer or a Satisficer?
According to the answer to this question, you could be causing yourself unnecessary stress.
Maximizers aim to make the best possible choice, exert enormous effort over decisions, spend longer researching products, deciding what to buy and comparing their choices with others.
Satisficers are happy with a good enough choice and stop looking when they find something they are satisfied with – even if better ones might exist – causing less stress.
Although maximizers make better objective choices, they worry more about missing a better alternative, get less satisfaction from the process – even when they find out they made a good decision – and are more prone to disappointment and regret which negatively affects their wellbeing. People with a high sensitivity to regret are less satisfied with life, less optimistic and more depressed than satisficers. Check out the Maximization Scale (Schwartz et al., 2002) to find out your tendency
Very few things in life are as good as we’d hoped for…
Whilst not wishing to inject negativity into this positive psychology blog, it is important to consider negatives alongside positives to create balance. Increasing awareness of our complex psychological processes can help us to look at everyday choices differently
Even when we have made the ‘right choice’, the process of adaptation means that we get used to the new thing in life and it loses its novelty factor: people consistently overestimate how long good experiences will make them feel good and underestimate how long bad experiences will affect them negatively. According to Schwartz, a surfeit of choice leads to the curse of high expectations, where very few things in life are as good as we’d hoped for:
“Good things satiate and bad things escalate” (Coombs, 1983; in Schwartz, 2004).
Reducing Choice-Overload Stress (and Expectations)
Schwartz (2004) suggests that to be happy we need to lower our expectations….so next time you are looking for the perfect choice:
· Be mindful of your expectations…are those jeans that you are about to buy really going to make you feel all the things the advertising suggests?
· Consider what’s working well for you currently – replacing like for like, or maybe the updated version would save time and energy
· Use recommendation engines and comparison websites that do the choosing for you.
· Stick to tried and trusted stores or websites rather than surfing further afield and don’t take too long researching before you buy!
· Learn to accept ‘good enough’ as long as it meets your main requirements
Bigger Life Choices
Considering the stress of making every day shopping choices, the potential negative effects caused by the fear of making the ‘wrong decision’ in wider life choices such as career, relationships and religion, or taking decisions that risk going against the opinion of others. These can lead to both internal and external conflict; even division and duality and us and them thinking.
My advice is the same: learn to be good enough exactly as you are… as long as you are being authentic and true to yourself.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: Harper Collins.
Jeffries, S. (2015). Why too much choice is stressing us out. The Guardian. Retrieved 26th July 2017 from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/21/choice-stressing-us-out-dating-partners-monopolies