Buying a tube of toothpaste should be simple. We want a substance to put on a toothbrush that will prevent tooth decay, bad breath, and general grossness of the mouth. But walk into any grocery store and it’s so difficult to pick out a tube. Do we want teeth-whitening toothpaste? Plaque-fighting? Anti-bad-breath? Pro-socialist?
And this is making people less happy.
OK, buying toothpaste isn’t leading to depression per se, but the availability of more options in life — I mean, there have to be about 50 kinds of toothpaste in a typical grocery store — is making us feel less sure about the choices we make. With more choices comes greater anxiety. But all the while, we think having more options is beneficial. After all, we have so much more toothpaste to choose from than those barbarians did 50 years ago.
That’s the phenomenon aptly named the paradox of choice. I know about it because my boyfriend has been talking about it the past few weeks. (He’s reading a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. I read the Wikipedia article.) My boyfriend pointed out that without me ever reading the book, I’m already following its mantra.
Since I recently took a job, I spent my last day before work looking at apartments. I toured three, and I’ve already chosen which one I want. My boyfriend said he had looked at 10 apartments before choosing the one he lives in now, and I’ve heard similar stories from other people of slogging through apartments before choosing the “right” one. Which is kind of crazy. I’ve never had a habit of creating too many options for myself. During my senior year of high school, I applied to two colleges that met my criteria and where I had a reasonable chance of acceptance. And I was the anomaly. I had friends that were putting their eggs in 10 or more baskets.
My view has always been that no matter if I have 15 or three options, I’m only going to choose one. I could have spent the day shuffling from apartment to apartment, losing sight of what I even wanted. Well, this apartment doesn’t have a tanning bed, and the last two did. I don’t use tanning beds because I have a healthy fear of skin cancer, but what if I need one someday? I wasn’t going to do this to myself. I picked three apartments that met my location and price criteria. It’s now the end of the day, and I know what I want. No stress.
And so is the paradox of choice. You try to give yourself more options and take what seems the sensible course of action, and life laughs at your expense.