Its called the choice paradox.
Ever heard the term less is more? When it comes to decisions, that statement can be entirely accurate.
I was searching for furniture for my apartment. I went to a well-recognized furniture store, Ikea, only to realize that there were 2,194 different options for me to look through and make a decision on. After spending two afternoons looking at couches, I was left wondering if I had wasted a small portion of my life staring at couches.
In a study done on choices, it was proven that consumers were more likely to buy when offered six jams (40%) instead of 24 jams (3%).
“As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase the level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.” -Barry Schwartz
There is no denying that choice improves the quality of our lives. It enables us to control our destinies and to get closer to getting exactly what we want out of any situation. Choice is essential to autonomy, which is fundamental to well-being. Healthy people want and need to direct their own lives.
On the other hand, the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean the more choice, the better.
Too much choice can arguably be detrimental in all areas of our lives. For example, a study from Columbia University shows that when consumers are given a lot of features to choose from when buying a car or suit, they begin to shut down, get tired, and make choices based off of a single factor like price, instead of considering all the other factors that go into wisely buying something.
In psychological terms, this is called cognitive miser. This means that as humans, we tend to think and solve problems in more straightforward and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and more effortful ways, regardless of intelligence. When we’re tired, we tend to conserve our energy by making choices based on a single factor, after a while of shopping, people start asking for the default option rather than carefully weighing each decision.
This can also be a problem when faced with a decision to make in your creative work. Given the endless options of which route to take, we can sometimes end up going with the more conventional path simply because it’s, the easier way to go.
This paradox of choice can even become a problem when dating or choosing a life partner. With apps like Tinder or Bumble, we have access to endless numbers of different people. They’re full of people holding out for a fairytale, all the while stepping over the frogs waiting to be kissed.
If you date someone once a week, after a couple of months you won’t know each other all that well. You might like each other, but the lack of time spent in the same room puts up a barrier. For some, this is a sign the relationship is going nowhere, and there’s no “spark,” so they end it. But no frogs are going to turn into princes without a bit of work.
How is there any way to know that there isn’t someone better out there? We can fall into the mindset of obsessing over little things we don’t like about our partner, believing that the grass is always greener. We end up chasing the next person who gives us an emotional high, leaving the frogs in the dust with absolutely no chance.
This mindset is a prescription for misery and will only make you unhappy over a human who isn’t perfect but is perfect for you. Knowing that you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly second-guessing it.
So we might be better off with fewer options in life or at least realizing that more choice isn’t always superior. Otherwise, we might end up never falling in love, never choosing a couch, or unable to even pick up a small jar of jam.