I love having a lot of choices. For example, one of my favorite restaurants is the Cheesecake Factory. Part of the reason I like it is because their menu is so big! If I go there, I know there has to be at least something that looks appealing. I like having a lot of options.
More Choices = Happier?
Why do we like having a lot of choices? I think at a deep level, we think if we have more choices, we will be happier with our final decision. If there are a lot of options on the Cheesecake Factory menu, for example, we think we will end up being more satisfied with our meal. If we’re looking to buy a house and we consider a lot of different possibilities, we think we’re more likely to find our dream home. If we’re looking to get married and date several different people, we think we’re more likely to find our best match. And so on.
Here’s the thing: Even though this line of thinking makes intuitive sense, research doesn’t back it up.
More Choices = Less Happy
Having more choices may make it more likely you will find the “best” option, in some objective sense. For example, if you are looking to buy a house, the more options you consider, the more likely it is you will find the best combination of square footage, amenities, and price. However (and this is key), having more choices actually makes you less happy with your final decision.
No Perfect Solution
This finding seems counter-intuitive, but consider this: In most decisions in life, there isn’t really a “perfect” solution. Most choices have both advantages and drawbacks. A decision for something means a decision against something else. At the Cheesecake Factory, should I have the steak, the pasta, or the fish? The more options I consider, the more advantages and drawbacks enter into the equation. And when I do make a final decision, there are more options “left on the table” (each with their own set of advantages). The more options I consider, the more I “give up” when I make a final decision.
What’s the Priority?
So in life, should we prioritize making the best objective decision (which requires more options) or the decision that will make us happiest (which requires fewer options)? I think a case could be made for making the best objective decision, especially on important matters such as buying a home or choosing a life partner. But consider this: Why do you want to make the best objective decision (at the Cheesecake Factory, when buying a home, when choosing a life partner)? If you’re like most people, you want to make the best objective decision because you think it will make you happier. But having more choices actually works against this end goal.
Limit Your Options
I’m not advocating for making rash decisions, especially in important areas of life. But it might be worth considering limiting your options, even in the important areas of life, and then just making a decision. The “limited options” decision will probably be “good enough,” and you might end up being happier with your choice.
What do you think about the connection between having a lot of choices and happiness? In your life, do you generally find yourself being more or less happy when you have a lot of options? What do you think about the idea of limiting your options?