Limit Choices–Be Happier

More than a decade ago, Barry Schwartz became famous when his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less hit the best-seller lists. Schwartz postulates that the limitless options our modern society offers us is making us less happy, not more. He calls this “choice overload.” Choice overload is making us question our decisions (once we make one) and leads to the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out for those of you who have missed out on the meaning of this acronym).

What to do?

Schwartz’ advice is to give yourself permission to accept “good enough.” Stop worrying about making the best decision, weigh your choices and make a decision that’s good enough.

My advice is to limit choices. Some examples?

  • I’ve drastically reduced the size of my wardrobe. I’m now down to about 30 items, and that’s more than enough.
  • When I buy yogurt, I don’t spend time staring at the ever-expanding wall of cartons—light, no fat, regular, Greek, non-Greek, probiotic, 6 ounce, 8 ounce, 16 ounce, 32 ounce. Why waste the time? I go straight for the same vanilla yogurt, in the lavender and white carton. Tastes good.
  • The same goes with books. I read about 75 books every year. That’s a lot. And there are thousands of books I’d like to read. I used to fret and worry about what book to read next. Should it be a classic? Something light? A best-seller? Fiction or non-fiction? I’d actually start worrying about what to read next before I’d even finished the previous book. What a waste of time and energy. Now I keep two running lists. The first list is Time’s All-Time Best 100 Novels since 1923. The second is a list I keep on my iPad of books people recommend to me, books my monthly book club reads, books I hear about that sound intriguing. I alternate my choices between these two lists. From those two lists, my choice is random. I just choose one. If I’m at the library, I choose what’s available. If I’m on my e-reader, I choose a title and download it. If it’s time to read my book club book, I read it.
  • Before I walk through the doors of a restaurant, I know I’m only going to consider two—maybe three—entrees before making a choice.
  • And, here’s the biggest shift in my life. I’ve made a pact with myself that if something’s not on my to do list, then the decision is no—at least for the day. I don’t want to be out of the loop, but if I’m going to get my most important things done, then I’ll need to say “no” to some things. Contrast that with saying “yes” to everything. In that case, I’d have to say “no” to my most important things and my big priorities.

I agree with Barry Schwartz. Good enough is almost always good enough. I’d rather spend my precious time on something more important than choosing whether to buy the 12-ounce or the 16-ounce yogurt. How about you?

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