Sense out of nonsense (Part 8 ) – Lockdown & Paradox of choice

Lockdown & Paradox of choice

Dipesh Mohile

As you are locked in the confines of your home; getting bored; not knowing what do – let me offer to bring premium quality ice-cream for you. So, close your eyes and picture a scoop of delicious yummy looking ice-cream.
Here’s an important question for you – Would you be happier if I brought 2 flavors of ice-cream OR if I brought 30 flavors of ice-cream?
One of the fundamental truths about humans is that we crave for choices and the freedom to choose. There is quite a lot of literature that highlights the need we constantly feel to make our choices. As parents, we may recall how our children (as young as 6 months old) tell us in no uncertain terms when they want to eat, sleep and play! 
You may have come across hundreds of jokes, memes and forwards highlighting how torturous this lock-down period is. Funnily enough, if you ask anyone, “what would your ideal weekend look like?” most people would say – “I would like to chill at home, doing nothing”. Yet, when we are ‘forced’ to do the same thing, it bothers us a lot. We are feeling as helpless as a caged parrot. [Disclaimer – we are not referring to people whose livelihood is threatened here. That is a wholly separate topic]
So, when having the freedom to choose something is so critical to us; is it possible that availability of choices makes us unhappy?
Let’s revisit our ice-cream above… I am guessing you would be happier if you were offered more flavors than less. But I forgot to tell you one important thing… you can have as much as ice-cream as you want, but once you choose a flavor, you must stick to it. (You can’t have another flavor)
Did your answer change a bit?
We all have experienced this in our lives – You go to a restaurant that offers pretty much everything under the sun with a 30-page thick menu. How many times have you given up & ended up ordering something that you’re familiar with?
Don’t worry – you are not alone. “Paradox of choice” is at play here. 
American psychologist Barry Schwartz in his seminal 2004 book “The paradox of choice – why More Is Less” made a very interesting point when he said –
Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our wellbeing, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically”
In simple terms – having too many options do not necessarily make us happier. It may in fact make us less happy.
This counter-intuitive outcome is based on a very simple reason – Every choice we make in life has an opportunity cost and a trade-off inherently built into it. When we chose one flavor of ice-cream, we were letting go of one flavor when we were offered only 2 flavors. However, when we were offered 30 flavors, we are letting go of 29 flavors to choose one! The same goes when we try to choose anything today. We are leaving more on the table AFTER making the choice.
Think of a time when you wanted to order food or buy something online or book a hotel… You probably had to make a choice at every juncture –
·       Which platform / app / shop / Restaurant to use?
·       What to order / buy / book? [1000s of options to choose from]
·       Payment method [for better discounts]
At any stage, the cycle can reset itself. You liked one product, but the other app offers a better price for it. You found what you were looking for, but the credit card that you don’t have offers a better discount and so on…
I have personally started realizing that everything takes much longer as you fiddle with these choices & at the end of it, you have an uneasy feeling that you missed out on a better deal / better option somewhere.
Paradox of choice has started playing havoc with our lives! Almost all of us battle that tinge of emptiness or dissatisfaction even though we may have the freedom to choose whatever we want. It even applies to bigger choices in our life like job, life-partner, house etc. No matter what; we are left with the uneasy feeling of “Yeh Dil Maange More”
And that’s why, I urge you to use this forced lockdown period to evaluate some of our fundamental lifestyle choices. Today, we are realizing is that we probably did not need all the things we always thought we needed. We merely ‘wanted’ these things. Watching movies, visiting malls, ordering food, stocking our kitchens with stuff…These were luxuries that became our habits over time, and we didn’t even realize when we mistook these as our necessities.
Use this lockdown period to question our insatiable need for things
We must be sensitive towards the hardship, sickness and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic. However, we must also take this opportunity to look within and change some of the habits that we’ve formed over last few years. Our consumption has another big price associated with it. It is harming the environment in a big way –
Here are some eye-opening facts –
·       Fashion industry is one of the leading pollutants today. Read more here.
·       Industrial agriculture, along with subsistence agriculture, is the most significant driver of deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries, accounting for 80% of deforestation from 2000-2010. Read more here.
·       Constant need to upgrade our electronic gadgets is doing an irreparable harm to the environment.
Thus, we are messing the environment through our consumption & it’s not even making us happier!
In other words, our unbridled lust for stuff is not only making us less happy; it is threatening our very existence by disturbing delicate balance of nature. I believe that is a darn good reason to start approaching our choices in a radically different way. After this crisis blows over & we get back to our lives; can we promise ourselves to be more judicious in what we purchase? Can we promise ourselves to buy only what we need? (and not what we want?)
First step in that direction is to declutter our homes. Use this period to identify stuff that’s lying untouched in your home. First, we need to develop the strong-will to part with this stuff (clothes/toys/gadgets/impulse buys). Only after we do that; shall our buying choices in future will change! After realizing how much unneeded stuff we have accumulated over time; we will not succumb to press “Buy Now” on our favorite E-commerce site that easily in future!
So, here’s hoping that not only we win the war against the virus; we also defeat the demon of blatant consumption. Until then, stay safe everyone!
Article by deepak

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