Fortunately, you don’t need to take the title literally. Unless you want to.
In nearly every way, our world is getting better. Still, we’re no happier. We have more than ever and are just as unhappy.
You might be ready to reach for the timeless advice: money doesn’t buy happiness. It probably doesn’t, but I know I’d rather be unhappy in a Mercedes than a Kia Carnival.
It turns out one of the culprits responsible for our unhappiness is unexpected. So unexpected that you’d never guess it to be the cause of your misery.
Yet, it often is. Its name is choice.
When choice was off the menu
In early times, choice wasn’t an issue. If you were poor, you dropped out of school to work on the farm. If you wanted to get married, the decision was unlikely to be yours. If you were hungry, you ate whatever you could find. Life was hard. We also know that a certain amount of wealth, stability and comfort are required to be content. Our ancestors lacked most of these and were still barely any more miserable than we are today. Why? Because they didn’t have a choice.
With wealth, opportunity and a better society comes choice. These are all fantastic. The problem is that choice can be like John Mclane in the film Die Hard. To get the bad guy, you sometimes have to shoot yourself.
The chicken or the steak
Think about the last time you visited a restaurant. You might
have opened the menu to find your safe dish. For me, it’s the chicken parmigiana. But what’s that? The steak pulls your attention. You decide to
order it. The plate is served in front of you, your mouth salivating. You take that first bite and… I wish I had stuck with what I knew. If only I had stayed with the chicken parmigiana, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.
What if we went in another direction? Unwavering in our decision, we order the chicken parmigiana. After taking a bite, we’re satisfied. We got what we expected. It’s nice. Then a thought enters our mind as we’re finishing it off. I wonder if the steak would have been better. It sounds nice; maybe I should have tried something different. What if…
The chicken or the steak—which is it? The answer is both and neither. It’s just food. It’s a choice. A or B. But the problem with choice is the power of what if. This is the paradox of choice. We tend to believe that the more options we have, the better the decision. But something else tends to happen. Choice shifts us from a perspective of gain to loss. Instead of savouring our chicken, we are left wondering if it was worth giving up the steak. The more choice we have, the more we have to sacrifice. We can’t help but wonder if option B would have made us happier.
What if the chicken parmigiana was a guy named Anthony and the steak, Michael? Choosing a partner is no different to choosing a meal; the steaks are just higher. Everything we choose comes with the burden of everything we turn down. The job, the holiday, the house. Every yes drags behind it an unseen no.
Which choice is the right choice?
I remember reading a comical article where some off-the-cuff advice recommended marrying a prostitute if you want to be certain of your partner’s faithfulness. I laughed, but the quip drew me back days later. I couldn’t help but think about it. There was a grain of truth to it.
A person who’s had many partners has probably tasted the chicken parmigiana and the steak, the lasagna too, and even the soup. We might feel insecure at the sheer size of their palate. They’re ordering the truffle for dessert while we dig into our vanilla ice cream. Here’s the thing. When they choose a dish, the pain of choice weighs less. They’ve sampled many, so when they choose one, they know it’s a decent choice. For others, that first choice could be perfect. Only, there’s no standard. So the mind is left wondering, what else is there? What might I be missing out on for this?
We don’t need to live in many houses, work many jobs or try many dishes to find the right one. Instead of looking at everything that might be, we can look at everything that is. The more we pay attention to the choice we made, the less that goes to the one we didn’t. Or, you could just marry a prostitute.Published in