After a pretty stressful week which is finally coming to an end, I wanted to relax with a movie or TV show. Netflix is always here as the fastest help. I’m not sure what to watch, but it offers a dizzying number of options, so the choice won’t be hard. I scroll, looking for something, and I come across a movie that might be the potential candidate. I tell myself I’ll return to it later, so I keep on scrolling in an attempt to find the one movie that will match my exact mood. I made a shorter list, mainly based on someone else’s recommendations and suggestions because I haven’t been a passionate movie buff lately.
But I already spent half the time designated for my movie on scrolling, so I decided that it’s better to watch some show instead. And the scrolling starts all over again. I’m not familiar with many new TV shows, so I begin reading synopses of those with photographs that grab my attention; I recognize some of them were mentioned or recommended by someone. If you have ever scrolled through Netflix, you know there’s a huge number of movies and TV shows… I realize an hour has passed, and I still haven’t started with a film or a single episode. This uneasy feeling starts gripping me, but I am not giving up on my movie night. I press play. After five minutes, I’m having second thoughts about whether I made the right choice or not. As the show plays in the background, I can’t stop thinking that maybe there is another, better show to watch. So, I pick another one, and then another one… I got tired, not the ending I was hoping for to my exhausting week. What meant to be a relaxing night turned out to be even more stressful. There was no trace of satisfaction. This feeling was not unfamiliar.
One completely trifling situation from the other day as a support to the example above. I stand in front of an ice cream freezer full of different flavours. I can’t make a decision. I stand paralyzed, looking at the various ice creams while the queue is getting longer, and I can sense the impatience of those behind me. Even the salesman’s courtesy gives in. “Chocolate is our best-seller,” he tries to help me, himself actually. “All right,” I answer right away. I take the ice cream; I try it and realize it’s not what I wanted. A wave of irritation and discontent is flooding me. I made a mistake!
It was not the first time. Buying clothes, choosing a phone, kitchen tiles, Christmas decorations, a book, a beach hat… all that is always accompanied by the same thought.
I realize I’m living the paradox of choice, something I haven’t been aware of.
The paradox of choice is an observation that having many options to choose from, rather than making people happy and ensuring they get what they want, can cause them stress and problematize decision-making. According to Barry Schwartz, American psychologist, professor and author of the book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” (2004), who is especially interested in this topic: an overabundance of options can actually lead to anxiety, indecision, paralysis and dissatisfaction.
But how can having a choice be a bad thing? Is it fair to locate the problem in having to choose? Is it possible at this point for us to go back and limit our choices?
Then I re-examine the situations when I felt upset and displeased from the choice. And I realize this feeling didn’t come from an abundance of choice or my inability to choose one thing, but because somewhere along the way, we got disconnected from ourselves. I didn’t listen to my inner voice; I didn’t trust my own intuition.
We suffocate our gut instinct with statistics, reviews, and someone else’s choices that seem more logical. As children, we trust our gut, but we become deaf to that little voice ignoring it altogether as we grow. All that little voice wants is the best for us. For me, this is the ultimate paradox of grownups.
P.S. Back to the ice cream: A little boy comes. “I want strawberry ice cream?” he says. “How about vanilla? It looks yummy,” his grandmother is trying to persuade him. “No,” says the boy sharply and unhesitant.