This day marks the 242nd birthday of our great nation – the land of the free, the home of the brave, and, just maybe, a country of too many choices. It is, after all, possible to have too much of a good thing, right?

I realize that you may have a hard time convincing someone fleeing a land of oppression that the concept of too many choices is even possible, but if you’ve lived here in the US your entire life you might understand what I’m talking about.

Less is more, or more is less?

Barry Schwartz writes in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, that abundance actually robs us of satisfaction. He argues that the myriad of choices we face today, be it cereal in the grocery store, designer jeans in the mall, or the options available on your new car, is making us less happy. Think back to the last time you made a significant purchase, or even an insignificant one. Did you feel overwhelmed at any point during the process? Did you feel buyer’s remorse afterward, suddenly worrying that you made the wrong choice? Sure, I get “order envy” sometimes when we go out to eat and I see another entrée that suddenly looks better than the one I ordered, but it’s so much more than that. Studies have shown that our seemingly unlimited supply of options is leading to stress, regret, depression, and anxiety.

It is well-documented that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore/wear the same outfit each day because it eliminates one more choice to make. Our daily energy reserves are finite so, by not exerting too much energy on deciding on what to wear, they save that energy for more important decisions to be faced during the day.

From printers to fabric

On a more personal note, I ventured out to Best Buy this past weekend to research color printers for my business. While this may not sound like a noteworthy event to many of you, keep in mind that I absolutely loathe shopping, especially when it requires me to leave the comfort of my home and fight traffic and crowds.

As expected, I felt my stress level rise when I walked through the sliding doors into a world of bright lights, vivid TV displays, and the loud volume of sounds from both TVs and stereos. Can I just get to the printers??! Once I did, I was faced with no less than 50 printers from which to select (Best Buy’s website currently shows 105 printer options available); there were variations in size, color, price, and performance. At that moment, I just wanted somebody to tell me which one was best for a small business. Give me two options, tops, and let me be on my way.

This next personal story is one of my favorites. My parents own a wholesale fabric company, and every so often they’ll visit the production mill to determine what they might want to add to their line of offerings. Sometimes my dad has trouble deciding what he wants out of the new line, so he’s been known to take some of all of it. After reading the book I talked about above, I’m convinced it’s because he worries that he’ll miss out on the next great seller if he doesn’t get them all. That’s all well and good, until it’s not. The fabric ain’t free so, before you know it, you’re on the hook for a bunch of the next great thing that isn’t selling. At one point, the owner of the mill visited my parents’ warehouse. One would assume that he’d be thrilled to see the fabric from his mill filling the warehouse. But you’d be wrong. In fact, he told them that they had too much of his fabric! When the person selling you the fabric tells you that you have too much of it, something’s not right.

Mo’ choices, mo’ problems

If The Notorious B.I.G. were still around today, perhaps I could convince him to redo his famous song. Whether you have a lot of money in the bank, or very little, we’re still faced with countless options each and every day; and the variety from which we have to select is likely going to continue to grow.

I wrote about some of the lessons I took away from Forrest Gump and The Jerk in an earlier post and, while writing this post, I remembered another great scene from The Jerk that is fitting for this topic. Wouldn’t it be nice if, at least some of the time, we had someone like Navin at the carnival booth to help us narrow down our list of options? It sure would make life a little simpler.