Why fewer choices make us happier

fewer choices

Recent research has shown that people are happier when they have fewer choices. Give me three types of cake to try, ask me to choose my favorite, and a clear winner emerges.

Expand my options to 25 flavors and the choice is suddenly more difficult. I’m much less confident with my final choice, and the deliberations take longer.

It makes sense, and offers a tidy answer to the question of American unhappiness. How can we of all people, with our myriad options and freedoms, be unhappy?

We think we want more choices, more customizable options, but we’re actually happier with fewer possibilities to navigate.

I may be particularly susceptible to option overload and its resultant unhappiness. More and more, I see myself as someone who thrives within boundaries. I relish freedom, but within limits.

I need lane lines to keep me on my side of the road, to keep me from crashing and burning.

As we’ve worked toward debt freedom, we’ve learned to budget. People who don’t budget often say they don’t want to be restricted, that it seems an unnecessary discipline if they’re paying their bills.

I love budgeting, because it limits my options but in exactly the way I choose. There’s not an outside party telling me how to spend my money – Mike and I are making the choices ourselves.

Once I’ve decided that I’m not buying clothes this month, I don’t get caught up trying to decide whether to take advantage of a sale, or whether I should linger in the clothing section while I’m in Target. I have fewer choices to make.

I’m human, of course, so I do occasionally get diverted by a cute pair of shoes. In most cases, a budget helps me make choices throughout the month. Should we go out to eat? It depends how much money we have left in our eating out budget.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, setting limits on spending makes me happier.

Space is another limit I’ve come to appreciate. We live in an apartment with very little storage. I’ve never once considered buying a new kitchen appliance because we have no space for one.

The physical limits of where we live make decisions about what to keep and acquire easier. We purge our only storage closet twice a year, simply out of necessity. If we had an entire garage of storage, we’d probably just hold onto everything “just in case.”

As much as I longed for a flexible schedule when I worked an 8-5 job, nothing gets me in a funk faster than a day without a plan. Too much freedom, not enough boundaries.

I’ve learned to schedule my days with at least limited structure. Sure, it’s a way to make sure I get everything done and meet my responsibilities, but it’s also necessary to get me through the day.

Without a plan, I waste time second guessing every decision.

Now that we’ve slowly begun research on a trip to Europe, I can understand why many people opt for preplanned tours. I can see how limiting the decisions could make for an easier (and quite possibly more enjoyable) trip planning process.

I feel like I’ve discovered a happiness hack. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by choices, I try to narrow them down quickly. Setting a few boundaries can make or break my day.

Can you relate? Do more options diminish your happiness?

6 thoughts on “Why fewer choices make us happier

  1. I love this thought process. I know I have difficulty making even the most insignificant decisions [“what flavour of ice cream do I want?” can turn into a half-hour event!] but if I’m at the local place with only three or four flavours of soft serve, it’s so easy to choose. I struggle with scheduling my days especially. Maybe because I only need to be accountable to myself, so if I don’t exactly stick to a self-imposed schedule, only I know? It’s something I need to work on for sure!

    1. Yes, I can put WAY too much thought into mundane choices, too. The schedule one is tough, especially when you’re self scheduled. My planner (Whitney English’s Day Designer) has a spot at the top of each day for top 3 things to do that day. Writing those down helps because if I get off track or overwhelmed by what to do next, I can come back to that small list and pick one of the three to tackle next!

  2. Yes! Limited selection is one of the many reasons I love shopping at Aldi…there is usually only one option, so no price comparison or mulling required! Thank you for putting words to those feelings.

    1. I’ve never lived near an Aldi, but my husband was telling me that Trader Joe’s has about 4,000 items, while the average grocery store has over 50,000. No wonder I like shopping at TJ’s so much more!

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