a man staring at the vending machines


Written by Minah Yoo, Canadian Certified Counselor 

Imagine yourself entering a coffee shop to order a drink. Imagine yourself again shopping online for clothing, laptop, or whatever you need to replace the old one. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of choices you have? If yes, you may benefit by reading this article.

In The Paradox of Choice, American psychologist states that “having too many choices produces psychological distress” (221). Although he appreciates the increase of choice in modern society to some extent, he clearly points out two main negative effects of overabundance of choice. First, it produces paralysis, making it difficult to choose at all. People find themselves not choosing anything after either feeling confused or frustrated. Second, it reduces satisfaction once a decision is made because the expectation goes up when there are many choices.

This means that having high expectations makes people feel less satisfied and less happy with the results. Although you can customize your drink in infinite ways at Starbucks because they believe that “happiness is in your choices”, your drink may not be perfect as your hopes are now too high. Perhaps, having too many choices make people spend more time striving for the perfect one, which may not even exist. Now, how can people stay away from these two negative effects of overabundance of choice and still enjoy the benefit of having different choices? Schwartz states, “we must decide which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting many other opportunities pass us by” (222). Rate the importance of the decision by using a scale of “not at all important,” “important,” and “very important”. You can also try to narrow down the choices by giving restrictions such as setting deadlines to make decisions and making a rule to visit only two stores. Most importantly, remember that there always will be new and improved options. Aim for satisfaction, not perfection.

The modern world made it possible for people to have the freedom of choice. However, it can no longer be the freedom if people don’t train themselves to use the abundance of choice effectively. Now, imagine yourself entering a coffee shop again. What will you order?