Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Paradox of Choice

It is silly to assume that every human being on the planet should be happy every instant of the time. We're bound to be unhappy about something; it's in our nature to be less than perfectly happy. So why shouldn't the something that we're dissatisfied with be excessive choice? Doesn't that beat most of the alternatives, especially the most obvious one of too little choice?

Maybe the market is "maximizing the human happiness of every human being on the planet", but the maximum level of happiness for people isn't 100%. And there are inevitable tradeoffs such that some of the things that make other people happy make you unhappy and vice-versa. So just as there are facts of the world that make you unhappy (sky too blue, gravity too strong, life too short...), there are facts of society that make you unhappy (too many choices in the supermarket aisle, too many people standing in line at the movie theater, too few unattached people of the opposite sex attracted to you...)

So, yes, occasionally I find making choices difficult. But the necessity of making choices is a fundamental part of the human experience. It's part of being an adult. I can delegate some of it by picking the right retail outlet or brand. I can go to Costco and have ONE choice of strawberry jam, go to Safeway and have a small aisle of choices, go to a specialty store and have a large aisle. I can pick one brand that is my brand and always look for that - it's not usually difficult to find. Or I can cultivate indifference and correctly assume that any brand stocked by any major retailor is probably a decent value. (In the cereal aisle I crave diversity and cycle through many over time - I have no permanent favorite)

Too much choice just isn't a problem I have when it comes to shopping. Instead, I have that problem in life. I can find it agonizing to pick the best job, the best career, the best significant other. Compared to that, picking the best peanut butter seems pretty trivial.


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