Too Much Choice – Too Little Happiness
These Things Come in Threes
Three things in two days. First, I loose contact with my phone. Second, my MacBook Pro dies. Then, in a third and final twist, traffic on the blog increased by 2000% (yes, two thousand) and I get locked out of WordPress. Coincidence? Of course. I got a free lesson in personal productivity in the process; How do you survive when your options are shut down?
On day one, I headed into London, having agreed to phone everyone I was meeting when I located a suitable coffee shop to gather in. I arrived and reached for my phone. No phone in my pocket. No phone in my bag. Generally, no phone anywhere. How did we survive before we had a phones in our pockets? Perhaps we were more organized, perhaps we just wondered around lost. We only had certain opportunities to communicate, so we planned a little more and were a little less spontaneous. We certainly weren’t sending a text when someone was trying to talk to us! When we got opportunities to communicate, we made the most of them.
There I was with one pound in my pocket. Now, the way the dollar is going, one pound may be worth about $5 at the moment, but it still only gets you one phone call from a UK phone box. As I stood in the pouring rain in central London, staring at the phone box, I didn’t know who to call to sort out the mess. Miraculously, it all worked out fine. I was still glad when I got my phone back later in the day.
On day two, I flipped open the lid of my trusty MacBook Pro to do my semi-regular backup and… Nothing. Bright light on front, but black screen. 18 months old and it was dead. Cue raised blood pressure and a trip to the Apple store. Despite mouth-to-mouth from the man at the genius bar (note to self: they really don’t like it when you call it the geek bar), there was no getting any sense out of the thing. The result? A very productive day of phone calls and ticking off items on the to do list that had been left undone because I’d been caught up in email, slide creation and the wonders of the Internet. The MacBook story is to be continued… For now, my trusty G4 is helping me through, sans Microsoft Windows.
The Psychology of Happiness
So, a little bit of Psychology, to fuzz up your day, specifically the psychology of choice and of happiness. Two gentlemen, Barry Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, have made these topics more accessible via their TED talks last year. To summarize and synthesize the two: The more choice we have, the less happy we are. When we do get choices, we don’t use them well, and when we make mistakes, we rationalize them to ourselves, but still we worry that we didn’t do the right thing.
We are at our most happy when we aren’t given too many choices, because choices cause stress. Despite that, we always want the ability to have lots of choice, we call it freedom. We want the freedom to keep our options open. Together that creates some interesting insight into why all of this technology causes us to procrastinate. Technology creates so many different possibilities, and with it a whole range of new decisions for us to worry about.
See also: 5 Ways to reduce stress, by reducing choices.
Great post, Jamin! “The more choice we have, the less happy we are. ” This is so true. I think this always explains culture shock, too, for many people when they come from another culture into, say, the Western one. I live by Thoreau’s quote to, “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” And you’re right in that “more choice indeed causes more stress.” And it’s when the technology itself becomes what we crave rather than what it can do FOR us. In short, like they say, sometimes we come to be owned by the things we own. It’s just so easy for the lines to become blurred. And then we read something about someone like Einstein — a genius who insisted on keeping life simple — who usually wore a smile and kept so my in perspective, and it hits us.
Sorry for the rambling, but this is such an important topic, as I even see kids now who just can’t relax and bask in the simple pleasures of life, oftentimes because of all of the technology and other choices they have surrounding them.
I had a post on this psychology a while back that stated this not quite so succintly as yours, but definitely echoes your explanation here!: So THIS is Progress? Please take a look if you get a chance and let me know what you think!
And I do so hope that you get the ol’ MacBook and phone back. Bless your heart!
My MacBook is back, so I’ve posted! Thinking more, I wonder if we have made technology an end, rather than a means?
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One for the students: http://redcatco.com/blog/productivity/too-much-choice-too-little-happiness/