Options as the Main Cause of Unhappiness


I’m reading a Bertrand Russell book right now that talks about happiness and how to achieve it in the modern world. One of his main points, which I think is excellent, is that modern, first-world people are unhappy because our basic necessities are met, and that the struggle for those (and the achievement of them) was what made us happy.

I have been thinking about another (yet I think related) facet of unhappiness for years: options. I think for many, the more options you have the less happy you are with any option you end up choosing. This applies to everything from DVDs to careers and spouses.

Your selection always sucks because despite the fact that you get moderate happiness from your current situation, you can’t help but wonder if you would have been happier if you went another route. It’s the good/better problem, where you let the best be the enemy of the great.

Anyway, I think this is tightly bound to the fact that you aren’t struggling just to have any good option, which is what Russell was writing about. If you have a tiny TV and you only get one channel (and even then only sometimes) then whatever comes on is seems inordinately brilliant. Why? Because the alternative is nothing to watch at all–kind of like freezing in the winter.

So how about that as an exercise? The next time you’re unhappy with your options, just pick one from the bunch and pretend it’s all you have. ::

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