In his TED talk The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz talks about how the the conventional wisdom of capitalism that the more options we have, the happier we’ll be, is almost entirely wrong. More often than not, the proliferation of choices leads to people being less satisfied, and we regret our decisions more. Fewer options means we are happier because it’s less likely we could have done better.
I can’t be the only person who has agonised for hours over a purchase to make sure I get the best deal for my money, especially online. For example, my hair straighteners are broken. No means of getting them fixed in our throwaway society so I would now like a new set. Looking at the options, there are hundreds of different makes and models, everything from the most basic set in Argos for under a tenner to a set of GHD “limited edition” straighteners for £300. On Amazon there are 1598 different sets of straighteners for sale; how on earth do I chose which is best for me? Are the GHD set really 30 times better than the £9.99 Argos set? A cost benefit analysis of the straighteners on Amazon is like a giant quadratic equation and it makes my brain hurt.
So it would appear that I am doomed to be dissatisfied with my choice of straighteners because the equation is impossible to solve and therefore I don’t know whether I will be buying the best straighteners at the best price. This then takes the shine off the purchase. Will I see a better pair and have buyers remorse that I didn’t get them instead? That is of course if I ever get round to buying them because I am currently paralysed by indecision!
I think this constant feeling that we could have got something better or cheaper when it comes to purchasing stuff is beginning to wear on people. There is perhaps starting to be an acknowledgement that there is too much stuff in (some, certainly not all) peoples’ lives and instead of more stuff bringing pleasure, it brings anxiety and dissatisfaction and doesn’t satisfy the cravings that we are trying to fulfill by aquisition. It’s an addiction, this desire to buy more because we are never satisfied with what we’ve got, and we are looking for the next thing to buy even before what we bought on the internet arrives in the post (I’m oh so guilty of this).
So I need an attitude adjustment. I need to change my current mindset which is that having more clothes/makeup/boots/perfume/gadgets/art/trinkets will make me happier. I need to believe this deep down emotionally as well as rationally as my purchasing behaviour is definitely not rational despite the fact I constantly justify it to myself on the basis of need.
I need to concentrate on the things that make me happiest for the longest time. These are things like swimming outdoors, playing the ukulele, festivals, meeting up with friends to play cards, France in the campervan, collecting pretty stones, watching birds, going to the beach, cycling and reading books. Looking at this list, it is doing things rather than having things that makes me happiest and I need to concentrate on facilitating happiness or at least contentment in my life rather than chasing after more stuff.
These are a few of my favourite experiences. I don’t need to buy any more stuff to do them.