veD OF MAKING CHOICES IN LIFE:......IN NORTH AMERICA.....IS AN AGONY OF DECISION MAKING CREATING ANXIETIES, DEPRESSION AND OTHER ILL-EFFECTS ON DAILY
Posted by Vishva News Reporter on April 20, 2004

DO DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO MAKE
CHOICES DAILY
MAKES US HAPPY?

Mr. Schwartz, who teaches social theory and social action at the prestigious Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, writes that:

  •  Rampant consumer appetites, especially in North America, have resulted in a scale of choice that eventually becomes counter-productive, whether it's choosing the perfect chocolate-chip cookie or deciding which company to work for.
     
  • We have now got an overload of choice unparalleled in human history, and as a culture "enamoured of freedom, self-determination and variety," we are reluctant to give up any options.
     
  • Having choices not only improves the quality of our lives, it gives us autonomy which is crucial to our mental health....
     
  • We would be better off seeking what is "good enough" instead of what is best, better off if we lowered our expectations of the results of those decisions....
     
  • In making choices, people should consciously consider on a daily basis what they are grateful for: not just a good job, or a solid sense of self, but small pleasures such as the sun streaming in through the window in the morning.
     

To read more on this interesting aspect of North American life experience please visit  Canadian Globe and Mail or click on the next line to read the article on this PVAF web site.....



Choices make us unhappy???!!!!!!
By JUDITH TIMSON
Canadian Globe and Mail: Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - Page C1

When it comes to decision making, we all have our black holes -- matters large or small about which we find it agonizing to decide. Those of us who pride ourselves on our decisiveness at work, for example, might be embarrassed to have any of our colleagues see us at a video store.

On more occasions than I like to admit, I have walked purposefully in to rent a video, stood staring for what seems like an eternity at the racks and racks of movies and then much to my despair, been unable to commit to spending a mere two hours with any of the possibilities. I reach for a comedy and think, no, that's too lightweight, then a drama until I imagine the labour-intensity of just sitting through it. Finally, smiling weakly at my friendly neighbourhood proprietor, who has even held up pictures of Johnny Depp to spur me on, I exit the store, shame-faced and empty-handed.

According to American author and academic Barry Schwartz, I have just experienced a modern malaise that he examines in his entertaining new book The Paradox of Choice (published by HarperCollins). We have too much choice in modern society, he argues, and that choice is making us unhappy.

Mr. Schwartz, who teaches social theory and social action at the prestigious Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, writes that rampant consumer appetites, especially in North America, have resulted in a scale of choice that eventually becomes counter-productive, whether it's choosing the perfect chocolate-chip cookie or deciding which company to work for.

The average American, by age 32, he says, has already worked for nine different companies. People switch jobs to live in another city, they switch because they are bored, and they switch because, in fact, switching and not staying has become a way of life. It means, he says in his book, "that the questions 'Where should I work?' and 'What kind of work should I do?' are never resolved. Nothing is ever settled."

Now before you conclude that the author is just another middle-aged man befuddled by the dynamism of modern working life, Mr. Schwartz makes it clear he is not in favour of a society in which there is no choice.

That would obviously be intolerable, especially in this, the age of the individual, where you can customize everything from your cup of specialty coffee to, with the flexibility of the workplace, even how you want to do and deliver your work.

Having choices not only improves the quality of our lives, Mr. Schwartz says, it gives us autonomy which is crucial to our mental health.

But he says, we've now got an overload of choice unparalleled in human history, and as a culture "enamoured of freedom, self-determination and variety," we are reluctant to give up any options. Our insistence on clinging to such a wide variety of choices contributes to "bad decisions, to anxiety, stress and dissatisfaction, even to clinical depression."

It's an interesting though not infallible theory, and in its major emphasis on consumer choices -- the hell of deciding, for instance, on a long-distance provider package -- Mr. Schwartz runs the risk of looking like a ridiculously overprivileged North American who has nothing better to do than lament the abundance all around him while people in other realities would settle for clean drinking water and an end to armed conflict.

He had his own epiphany for instance, several years ago when he innocently went into a Gap store decisnd asked for a pair of jeans.

"Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy or extra baggy?" the sales clerk asked him. "Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?" Overwhelmed, he nonetheless eventually walked out with a pair of jeans. But it did occur to him that "buying a pair of pants should not be a day-long project."

I think he's on to something. Forget jeans. Higher education, for example, has become so consumer-oriented, so commodified, that students and their parents turn themselves inside out in an agonizing quest to choose "the perfect fit" when several universities would be not only good but excellent choices.

Seemingly everything is up for grabs -- students can study anything and choose to be anything -- but they are fretting over and delaying making their choices. Obligation -- to make a living, to get on with life -- seems less and less a compelling factor.

The number of baby-boom parents who are seriously concerned about their university-age children actually committing to viable careers is growing, but this paralysis of choice may be something the boomer generation brought upon itself.

We are, after all the "President's Choice" set, as anxious to snare the perfect heirloom tomatoes for our salads as we are to score the best school for our children. Our mantra is only the best will do.

Mr. Schwartz identifies two distinct types of decision makers. There is the "maximizer" -- someone who wants only the best and conducts intensive searches to find it, and still remains haunted by the notion that something better might be around the corner.

And then there is the "satisficer" -- someone with high standards who nonetheless settles on something -- a job, for example -- that is certainly good enough, and who doesn't worry constantly about missed opportunities.

To no one's surprise, maximizers seem to be unhappier than satisficers -- they are endlessly on the hunt for something better. They suffer more regret over their decisions, and they get less satisfaction from the choices they do make.

So how do we improve our choice-making capabilities and get off of what psychologists call the "hedonic treadmill," in which we keep striving for more and more variety that seems to satisfy us less and less?

Mr. Schwartz concludes we would be better off seeking what is "good enough" instead of what is best, better off if we lowered our expectations of the results of those decisions. Surprisingly, we would even be better off, he argues, if more of the decisions we made were non-reversible, although that obviously works more with material goods than it does with careers.

Mr. Schwartz also advises people to consciously consider on a daily basis what they are grateful for: not just a good job, or a solid sense of self, but small pleasures such as the sun streaming in through the window in the morning.

One small pleasure I'm grateful for is that the next time we want to rent a movie, my husband has agreed to go the video store instead of me. Let him suffer the agony of indecision.

jtimson@globeandmail.ca

 



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