“The amount of pleasure and satisfaction we derive from experience has as much to do with how the experience relates to expectations as it does with the qualities of the experience itself.” The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz,
Are many people unhappy these days due to the surfeit of choices? Developed nations are richer and offer their citizens more choices than at any other time in human history. The internet offers us access to unlimited information, entertainment and things to spend our money on. Arranged marriages are becoming increasingly rare. Some grocery stores offer as many as 30 different types of jams and jellies. Yet, despite so many choices, depression is on the rise in developed nations and people seem to be remarkably disappointed by many (or most) of their daily experiences and the choices they make.
As Barry Schwartz puts it in his book “The Paradox of Choice”
“If I’m right about the expectations of modern Americans about the quality of their experiences, almost every experience people have nowadays will be perceived as a disappointment, and thus regarded as a failure—a failure that could have been prevented with the right choice.”
Choices for education, careers, kitchen appliances and partners abound. Having many choices increases a person’s expectations of what is possible for them. This may set the individual up with such high expectations that almost any choice they do make, ends up being a disappointment in comparison to that amalgamated mental expectation that they had derived from all those choices they were exposed to.
I see it like this: When you have a lot of choices it results in you inadvertently summing up all the good qualities from the gamut of those choices. At this point, you have the expectation that someone or something (job, career, education, mate, sex, kiss, hobby, dinner, fluffy cat, etc) will amount to your new, heightened expectation of it. If the person/thing/event is even just slightly less than your expectations, you experience emotionally negative feelings of disappointment and sometimes, bouts of depression.
If you live throughout every day with such high expectations, don’t plan on ever being extremely happy; plan on being regularly disappointed. The key to happiness is lowering your expectations and relating your experience to a situation that could be worse (not better). This action creates gratitude because then you are happy about your situation, realizing it could be much worse.
Happiness doesn't necessarily require fewer choices, but it does require the ability to modulate our expectations of those choices. If you are one of those people who frequently says, “I’ve heard/seen/had better” you probably have high expectations and frequently experience disappointment/boredom/and/or lack of contentment in your life.
The more choices you have the more opportunity costs come at you, assault you, and niggle at your mind. You may have been okay or happy with the one choice presented to you—but, when you have a bunch of choices presented to you and you make a choice, the choice that you do end up making becomes difficult (and less wonderful) because you are evaluating this choice in light of the other choices that were also available. You begin to reflect upon what you lost from not choosing any of those other choices. Disappointment ensues.