The Paradox of Choice

Ah...the bread aisle. Hundreds of choices for....bread.

Ah…the bread aisle. Hundreds of choices for….bread.

As many of you know, my husband and I are attending a Voluntary Simplicity group at the Battle Ground library. It’s a five week program. Last night was session two. A lot of great ideas and things to contemplate are coming out of the discussions and readings. An excerpt from The Paradox of Choice.

“Increases in our expectations are partly to blame. The more we are allowed to be the masters of our fates, the more we expect to be. We believe we should be able to find work that is exciting, socially valuable and remunerative. We expect spouses who are sexually, emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Our children should be beautiful, smart, affectionate, obedient and independent. And everything we buy is supposed to be the best of its kind.

With all the choices available, we may believe we should never have to settle for things that are just “good enough”. Those who accept only the best, I call maximizes. In my research, I’ve found that maximizes are less happy, less optimistic and more depressed. At the very least, maximizing behavior can lead to dissatisfaction–and, sometimes, paralysis.

I have a friend who makes going out to dinner a nightmare. He struggles to select a dish and changes his mind repeatedly as his companions sit and stew. And I see my students agonize about which of many paths to follow when they graduate. Many of them are looking for jobs that will give them everything, and they expect to find them.

…This is the paradox: Here we are, living at the pinnacle of human possibility, awash in material abundance. We get what we say we want, only to discover that it doesn’t satisfy us. The success of 21st-century life turns out to be bittersweet. And I believe that a significant contributing factor is the overabundance of choice.” Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice.

I have seen this recently with a close friend of mine. She shared with my husband and me a few nights ago that her husband and her are financially able to retire right now. Right now! We’re the same age and I am so over-the-top excited for them. But, she’s struggling with something bigger than she is; the desire to own a new-construction home (which will entail all new furniture &increased utility bills and property taxes) as opposed to the home they live in that’s paid off. I would imagine EVERYONE reading this post right now is thinking “What’s wrong with her? She can retire in her 40’s and lives in a house that’s paid off and she wants a new house? Choose retirement.”

I hope that as she’s reading this, she isn’t upset that I’m using her as an example because, honestly, that’s what she is. Most people reading this post are no different than my friend. We all have our own monkeys clinging to our backs, if you will. Maybe a Coach purse fetish or an unhealthy love of Starbuck’s or a need to go to fancy wine bars because you’re sure they’re calling to you (that’s mine) or a strong desire to own a boat because the lifestyle seems so exciting or freeing or…sorry, I’m reaching because I can’t understand the draw of owning a boat. They’re time, space and money suckers, from what I’ve ever seen. The best boats are the ones your friends own.

Sorry, now I’m off topic. I really hope my friend makes peace with her struggle. Someone telling her how to think and feel won’t help. Something needs to click in her that says ‘New construction will fulfill all your hopes and dreams’ or ‘New construction will not make you happier.’ Either way, it’s her journey.

I’m working on the wine bar thing and trying to not be green with envy over my friends’ dilemma.




I am a Clark County native. I am Level 2 WSET (wine and spirit education trust)-certified and enjoy pairing wine with my passion for travel and fondness of food. My most prized possessions are the memories of places I've been with my husband, the chance encounters we've been blessed to have along the way and my carry-on bag. I can often be seen around town and in tasting rooms with our two beautiful, double-Merle Australian shepherds, Challenge and Baby Girl.

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