A Few Words on Choices
Choices Are Plenty
Less May Be More
The world of today is truly diverse and colorful; and the advances in civilization and technologies bring us endless choices. Hundreds of television channels are there for you to pick every night when you come home from work. You may get baffled by the dozen plus flavors offered by a single drink at the supermarket. Want to buy a cell phone? You’ve got so many vendors, so many bundles and so many features to choose from. And arranged marriage is all but obsolete, so it’s your own business to be with someone of any size and shape.
No doubt about this: choice is good. With the right and freedom to choose, we are more content, and our lives are more fulfilling than ever. Right?
But let me know if you have such a rare happy species near you. The truth is that, turn on the TV, press the remote control until you develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and you won’t find the program you really want. On your way out of the supermarket with a whole cartful of stuff, you realize that you forgot to pick up the toilet tissues that your wife sent you out for. That new cell phone that you just bought last week? It’s not very useful. Perhaps the only thing that you replace faster than your cell phone is your girlfriend…
It appears that too many choices cause more agonies instead.
When people realize they have more options, they tend to feel dissatisfied with what they have picked. On the contrary, once they know they don’t, then they would stay with their choices. A psychologist performed this experiment: two control groups were told to choose one of two pictures. Subjects in group A were not allowed to change their minds; while those in group B could exchange their pictures in two weeks. The result revealed that all subjects in group A were very happy with their choices after two weeks; while most of those in group B expressed their dissatisfaction and requested a trade.
Apparently, the more options there are, the more we want to exercise our right to choose. Therefore, the Internet slows down, our cars look smaller, and our wives seem dimmer… Nothing has actually changed in anyway; it’s our desire for choices that is inflating out of control.
A fruit jams brand had designed twenty-four flavors. On the day of its supermarket debut, it drew a record number of media and potential buyers. Based on the size of the crowd, this promotion was an absolute success. However the manufacturer later found out that the sale number was peculiarly poor. After it reduced the number of flavors to six, less people came visit, but sales increased. What does this mean? It’s that neither zero choice nor too much of it is beneficial. The key is to provide an appropriate amount of options that allow people to choose and not get overwhelmed.
Once we have so many choices, and spend so much time to decide, what we pick is no longer a “cell phone”; it must be a “do-all smart phone”. We no longer expect an ordinary date; she’s got to be a perfect partner with the look of a Miss Universe and the virtues of Virgin Mary. Hence higher expectations bring greater disappointments.
Perhaps “less is more”; too many choices often do you no good. Studies indicate that when someone is left with fewer options, he is indeed happier, and more motivated to make the better choices.
If we are able to make the right decisions, then we can steer our lives toward happiness. But what is a right pick?
Imagine this: there are two job offers laid in front of you. The first one is very interesting to you and pays $30,000 annually; and the other is a bore but lets you pocket $40,000 a year. Now you have a struggle in you head. All other conditions being equal, which one would you pick?
People in general habitually emphasize on the difference in the dollar amounts, and neglect to consider the merit factor of the jobs. So more people would choose the boring job, even though it could be painful for them to go to work. However, that extra ten grand is no chump change by any standards; you can use it anytime. We all have different priorities and needs to contend with; therefore one choice does not fit all.
We can choose to be a wolf, or a cow. It can be said that wolves are leading a happy life: they occupy a higher place in the food chain, usually attack with great force and dine with big chunks of meat. Most other animals, and even humans would keep away from them with fear. But their life is sad at the same time: they only come out and hunt in the darkness of night; and for survival they often must take on much larger and more dangerous opponents. They don’t live in peace.
Cows are different. They don’t complain, and just work. Let them eat grass and you get milk, or beef for dinner. In people’s mind, they only give and ask for nothing in return; all the noble visions and beliefs of the world are carried in these creatures. For this reason, farmers take good care of their cattle. You can argue cows have a happy life, but we all know how it ends.
Life consists of a series of choices; we can decide what to do. To be a wolf or a cow, the answer to that is yours. But who really knows right from wrong? Sometimes two choices seem to head opposite directions at first. And the end result?
There is a story that I had read somewhere:
An American was taking a stroll on the pier at a Mexican seaside village and spotted a boat parked there. Several large yellow-fin tunas were left on the deck. The Yankee praised the quality of the fish and asked the boat owner how long it took for him to catch them.
The Mexican fisherman answered: Not too long.
The American: Why not stay on the sea a little longer and catch more?
Mexican fisherman: These fish are enough to provide for the family.
American: So what do you do the rest the day?
Fisherman: I sleep late, then fish a little, play with the kids for a while, and take a nap with my wife; every evening I’d go to the bar for a drink, and play guitar with some friends. My days are pretty happy and occupied.
American: I am a Harvard MBA, and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and then buy a bigger boat. After this buy several more, so you can own a fishing fleet. You don’t have to sell your fish to a middleman; sell them to the processing plant directly. Finally get your own cannery, so you can control the whole business from fishing, processing to sale. You’ll then be able to move out of this tiny village, to Mexico City, or Los Angeles, and finally New York, where you can expand your business.
Fisherman: But sir, how long will it take?
American: About 10 to 15 years.
Fisherman: And then?
American: And then comes the best. If timing is good, you can take your company public, and sell its stock at the stock exchanges. Then you’ll be rich, and become a millionaire.
Fisherman: Become a millionaire?! Then what?
American: Then you can retire and move to a seaside village. There you can sleep late, do some fishing, play with your kids a little bit, and take a nap with your wife. In the evening you can go to the bar for a drink, and play guitar with your friends…
Indeed, the many choices that we have in this world may somehow end up achieving the same thing. Life is also a result of never-ending choices. Follow your dream and be what you wish to be; then you will live a true life.