Rod Dreher

Remember that Devo song “Freedom of Choice” ? Especially this lyric:

Freedom of choice is what you got/Freedom from choice is what you want

Turns out they were right. From today’s NYT, a column about scientific findings showing that people actually prefer to have fewer choices. There’s one study comparing French and American parents who have had to withdraw life support from their infants. The French parents were far less conflicted and unhappy about the event afterward, the study finds. In France, doctors make that call, unless challenged by parents. In the US, parents make the call. The responsibility for having had to make such a wrenching choice made them miserable in its aftermath. Excerpt:

Since, fortunately, most of our decisions are less weighty, one way to tackle the choice problem is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough,” said Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice” (Ecco, 2003).
Seeking the perfect choice, even in big decisions like colleges, “is a recipe for misery,” Professor Schwartz said.
This concept may even extend to, yes, marriage. Lori Gottlieb is the author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (Dutton Adult, 2010). Too many women — her book focused on women — “think I have to pick just the right one. Instead of wondering, ‘Am I happy?’ they wonder, ‘Is this the best I can do?’ ”
And even though we now have the capacity, via the Internet, to research choices endlessly, it doesn’t mean we should. When looking, for example, for a new camera or a hotel, Professor Schwartz said, limit yourself to three Web sites. As Mr. Scheibehenne said: “It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom. It could decrease our freedom if we spend so much time trying to make choices.”

This makes sense to me, from my own experience. Every time I’m in a new city, or a familiar city with a wide range of choices for dining, I torture myself trying to decide where to eat. I am nearly paralyzed by the fear that I’m going to make the wrong choice, and miss out on something terrific and special. It’s usually the case that after I decide, I find fault with the lunch I’ve had, because I think I would have been much happier had I chosen to go one of those other places. It’s stupid, I know, but I fall into this trap every time. I remember one day walking around Paris, and being so paralyzed by choice — and with the stakes so high in that fantastic food capital — that it had gotten to be mid-afternoon, and I still hadn’t settled on a place for lunch. So I just bought a demi-baguette and was happy, or at least content. For me, it was less stressful to have plain bread for lunch rather than risk making a decision I regretted.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus