Americans revel in having choices. Fifty-five (permanent) flavors of Haagen-Daz ice cream, more models of cars than we can shake a stick at, overflowing grocery stores.
Yet is there such a thing as too many choices? Perhaps so, IF we let our myriad choices freeze us into indecision. Too many choices with too little to distinguish among them can result in psychological stress as we wrestle with a seemingly infinite decision tree. We can become like the dog that goes hungry because it is precisely half way between two identical bowls of food with nothing to drive the decision between them.
Without a doubt freedom and autonomy are vital to our well being, and having choices is a critical component of being free. A choice between something and nothing is no choice at all. Still, Robert Goodin in his new book “On Settling,” argues that settling or making a decision and sticking to it is a necessary “counterweight to the restlessness of contemporary culture and to our obsessive worry that some other grass is always greener…. By settling on some things we free ourselves to focus on others…the alternative is a life full of potential but empty of everything else…settling thus saves us from squandering our powers.” (Daniel Askt, “Choose or Lose, The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2012.)
“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.” — William James; 1842–1910
“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.” — Barry Schwartz; 1946–, “The Paradox of Choice,” Chapter 5