UNCOMMON COMMON SENSE
By Bill Frayer
The Paradox of Choice?
It doesn’t seem like that long ago when if we didn’t get to see a particular film we wanted to see in the theatre, we had to just hope it would come on television someday. Some did, but most did not. I recently took a history of foreign film class from a professor emeritus at a local university who told us that back in “those days” even film critics could not see all the films they had to review and sometimes had to rely on second-hand impressions from others to write a review of a film!
Of course, that was a rather long time ago. VCR’s solved this problem, to a large extent, in the 1980’s. Today, of course, we can find, probably through streaming on our computers, many old films. Our problem today is almost the opposite. How can we decide what film or television series to watch when we have so many choices?
In fact, we have almost innumerable choices about so many things, it’s becoming difficult to decide how to spend our time. Not only do we have a plethora of choices of what to watch on our televisions, we have to decide, in many respects, exactly how we wish to spend our valuable leisure time.
I have always enjoyed reading magazines and books. Lately I am subscribing to The Economist, The New Yorker, Time, The Atlantic, and The Sun. Those alone provide me with more than I can comfortably read in a week. When you add in my daily online reading of The New York Times, The Guardian, as well as various blogs, it just doesn’t leave as much time to read the books I’ve been accumulating on my Kindle and on my night stand. I am sure many readers are experiencing the same squeeze.
When you consider the additional choices of whom to spend time with (since you can’t spend as much time as you like with everyone), what new recipes to try, where to travel to, and even how to spend a relaxing afternoon, the choices can almost become paralyzing.
I remember a 2006 TED Talk by Barry Schwartz, in which he argued, counter intuitively, that too much choice actually made us less satisfied than if we had fewer options to choose from. His reasoning went something like this: When we are forced to choose a product, for example, from a very limited number of choices, we make the best selection, knowing we made the best choice we could. However, when we are faced with a large number of choices, the pressure to make the best selection can haunt us. We make a choice but almost immediately wonder if we, indeed, made the best one.
I think this is a very contemporary cultural problem. As we are faced with more options in our lives, we, quite naturally, want to take the time to make certain we are making the best possible choice. We may select a dinner at a restaurant and be disappointed when we compare what we ordered to what we might have had instead. We select a new car, and wonder if we got the best possible deal on the vehicle. We even select a vacation hotel, yet find ourselves wondering if we might have made a better choice.
Finding satisfaction with our choices comes down to deciding clearly what you want or need, making a selection, and letting go. This process of simplifying our lives by carefully choosing what’s important is what many ex-pats have done by choosing to live in Mexico.