Monday, September 22, 2008

A brief intermission

This post was meant to be a comment on a blog written by a friend of mine. Then it became too long to be a comment so I decided to put it up here instead. It is about the paradox of choice: the theory saying that having too much freedom in our lives may be leading to unhappiness and depression.

My friend's article is more about what this means from a marketing point of view, and I left my comments there on that angle. This one here is a more personal comment on the idea.

I think the problem of choice is a good one to have, perhaps even a necessary transition phase in human evolution. If the first amphibian creature back in time got scared by the paralysis of choice and went straight back to the ocean for the safety of the old, we wouldn't exist now. What we need as individuals is not giving up our options. We merely need to redefine our sense of purpose, we need to redefine what really matters in our lives. Without that, there will always be a disconnect between our expectations and the benefits we receive from our choices.

About two years ago my mentor asked me the question, "What is your goal?" It is not an easy question to answer, and certainly not one we readily know. Finding a job? Living in a nice house? Leading a good life? How do you define 'good?' Will you have attained your life's ultimate goal with a house, a car, a job, or anything material at all? It took me quite a few tries to find the answer, and I was very surprised at the time that it did not immediately occur to me. But once I found it, the first decision I made after that brought me here to where I live today, without an ounce of regret despite all the things that were at stake and all the things I left behind.

I know Mr. Schwartz is not necessarily calling for a throwback to some oppressive regime, but I am sure there will be many people reaching the conclusion that less freedom brings more happiness. If any policy makers are reading my blog, know this please: I never asked you to make me happy. That is my job. My responsibility. Your job is to make sure I am educated and informed enough to perform well at that job.

It is informational asymmetry that causes the problem, not freedom of choice.

1 comment:

trevauld said...

There is a song by Tim Buckley, named "I never asked to be your mountain" but it's not really relevant to the topic, I guess. Anyhoo.

To be educated and informed enough about happiness and the ways of attaining happiness... That is important, for most of us get lost in the process of query. The essential problem is, amongst those zillions of choices, we believe that only one of them is the right one. Hence the paralysis, the depression and the regret. The phrase 'needle in a haystack' comes to one's mind. And some of us are blessed with hay fever, which makes the process of finding the needle much more dreadful. I can't even order pizza without spending 20 mins on deciding which topping I should pick.

Dell has a nice customization option for every laptop/desktop computer you buy through their website. It enables you to leave the parts you don't need out of the setup. But only if you can. Recently, a friend of mine literally begged me to help him through the process. "Should I get that processor or this?", "Do I need that much RAM?", "How bout this software, do I really need it?"... Remember, this customization system was supposed to make your life easier. All it did was making my food get cold whilst I was trying to help my friend on Skype.

Bottom line; give as many choices as you like but explain what they do actually mean.