When I was young, the telephone with the dial at home served no other purpose than simply making calls, and that did us just fine. In contrast, if you enter a cell-phone store today, you will be flattened by an avalanche of brands, models and contract options. Selection is the yardstick of progress. Although abundance makes us giddy, there is a limit. When it is exceeded, a surfeit of choices destroys the quality of life.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz describes in his book “The Paradox of Choice” why this is so. First, a large selection leads to inner paralysis. To test this, a supermarket set up a stand where customers could sample 24 varieties of jelly. They could try as many as they liked and then buy them at a discount. The next day, the owners carried out the same experiment with only 6 flavors. The result? They sold 10 times more jelly on day two. Why? With such a wide range, customers could not come to a decision, so they bought nothing. The experiment was repeated several times with different products. The results were always the same.
Second, a broader selection leads to poorer decisions. If you ask young people what is important in a life partner, they reel off all the usual qualities: intelligence, good manners, warmth, the ability to listen, a sense of humor, and physical attractiveness. But do they actually take these criteria into account when choosing someone? Nowadays, in the era of online dating, millions of potential partners are at our disposal. It has been proven that the stress caused by this mind-boggling variety is so large that the male brain reduces the decision to one single criterion: physical attractiveness.
Finally, large selection leads to discontent. How can you be sure you are making the right choice when 200 options surround and confound you? The answer is: You cannot. The more choice you have, the more unsure and therefore dissatisfied you are afterward.
So think carefully about what you want before you inspect existing offers and stick to your criteria. Also, realize that you can never make a perfect decision. Aiming for this is, given the flood of possibilities, a form of irrational perfectionism. Instead, learn to love a “good” choice. Yes, even in terms of life partners. Only the best will do? In this age of unlimited variety, rather the opposite is true: “Good enough” is the new optimum.