Choice, Paradox, and Regret.

Many people in western society don’t know what they want. We say we want a car, or the newest iWhatever, or a life on a beach. But how many of those things are truly our desires, as opposed to what we are told to desire by our society and the marketing machines lying therein?

A very wise friend of mine had an interesting revelation. We in North America have too many choices – our very lifestyles face us with the paradox of choice.  What he meant was that we are so stimulated with choices in our day to day lives that we go into a mental lockdown and end up choosing none of them!  Or at least regretting the choice that we have made…isn’t that unfortunate!  (Here is Barry Schwartz to clarify what exactly the paradox of choice is if you need it:

You probably know dozens of people who are unsatisfied with their current lifestyle, and will never be satisfied because there COULD be something better out there. We don’t know what it is…but we have a plethora of outside influences telling us what it might be.

Here is an interesting 20 minute video of synthetic happiness and some theories on regret by Dan Gilbert:

So how do we avoid this regret of all the choices we DIDN’T choose?  Perhaps we have to limit our choices to a now-or-never option without looking back.  Here is the real question in my mind:  Does this merely turn us into a blundering “come what may” buffoon with no desire to rise up and make changes in our lives or the world?  I suppose the difference between these two cases would lie in the happiness we derive from what we are currently doing.  If we are inherently unhappy with what we are doing then a change needs to be made.  If, on the other hand, we are unhappy due to the choices we are faced with…then perhaps we should remove those choices ourselves.

This paradox of choice can be observed throughout many aspects of our society.  Look at Apple products, for example.  For a brand that aims to be simple, neat and tidy, is there any wonder that they achieve significant market penetration through such straight forward products?  They have the iPhone 1, 2, 3, and 4.  (I’m of the opinion that the 4S was a sorry attempt at an iPhone 5 that they realized they couldn’t pass off as a new model late in the game).  Their products may have a few varying harddrive sizes, but in terms of other technical jargon, all products are the same.  Is this in the technical interest of the customer?  Of course not, a wider range of product variability and pricing would suit a larger range of customers – but Apple is not targeting the tech-savvy, detail reading customer.  They are appealing to the simplicity of the marketing behind pure numbers.  And it works.  How many thousands of people out there will clamor to upgrade their iPhone 16 to the latest and greatest iPhone 17 in a few years?