Life discussions with friends and family are quite abundant in this season of life. These discussions usually arise from stress. These stresses stem from topics such as “not knowing what to do in the future in terms of school and career” to “will I find that perfect person for me”. But when you really boil down to it, these stresses are being caused by our “freedom of choice”
I had an interesting discussion with my Dad, who was telling me that back when he was young, he had very little choice on what he could or couldn’t do. So as such, if an opportunity arose, it would be a no brainer to just jump on it. How about now? It’s totally different. We’re plagued by so much choice - which school do I go to? What do I study? Do I pursue this path of opening up a business rather than going to school? The list goes on! But this even filters down to choosing what to eat, and even what TV show to watch. I remember back when I was in kindergarten, before cable TV, there were literally 3 channels to watch - one of which had cartoons on it (for select times of the day as well). You watch the show within that time frame for the most part. Fast forward to the present day and age where you can literally watch anything at anytime you want to.
I remember having a conversation quite a while back with my housemate, where we skimmed over this idea of choice. Choice is not necessarily a bad thing. Choice lets you pursue your own personal goals, ambitions and desires. But at the same time, too much choice can be detrimental.
I was reading an article about this, and they described this idea through the analogy of jam. They started of talking about a study done in a grocery store. There were two tables, one sampling 6 jams and the other sampling 24 jams. The customers were told that they would be offered $1 off if they ended up buying one of the sample jams. People ended up sampling approximately the same number of jams in both tables, but the big difference was that out of the samplers, there were 10 times more buyers in the 6 jam table.
The article explained this phenomenon by a economist term called “opportunity costs”. This is what is used to describe what is “lost” when you take one path over the other. For instance, when choosing between going to a movie or eating out, and you decide to eat out - the opportunity cost would be the movie that you don’t get to see. While the strict theory says (and my business-studying friends can correct me on this) you should only be choosing between an option and your next best choice, the truth is that we’re plagued by all the choices that we have. What ends up happening is one of two things — One: we can’t enjoy the choices that we made because we’re so haunted by the opportunity costs of the other choices, and that’s all we think about. Two: There are so many options and options and potential tradeoffs that we just end up not making any decision at all. This is most likely what happened with the jam samplers.
We (and I love this wordplay that the article uses) get stuck in the jam of life. We want to choose something, but we’re unable to shut out our other choices and in the end become paralyzed. Then the anxiousness comes when we see people come and buy the jam, and we think whether or not there will be any jam left if we ever want one.
So how do you break this cycle? In a word - commitment. You have to choose a path and walk on it. You find that many of the happiest people are those who are limited in their choices. Those who are married, or close to their family, who are committed Church go-ers and so on. The article gives an interesting parallel with electricity, saying how it needs the contraints of a cord to flow and actually be useful to us. In much the same way, happiness, without contraints or avenues to flow through just becomes a huge messy and hazy cloud - “everywhere” but ungraspable.
But does this mean that just out of the blue randomly commit to anything and everything? Marry the first person that looks your way? Absolutely not! What we need to do is seek wisdom and, instead of going from option to option trying to find a good fit, discern what is true, what is valuable, and the path to take to attain that.
The problem that many of us face is that we’re stuck in the age of “self”. Everything can be customized to one’s liking, our desktops to our lattes. Just a few months ago, Starbucks just rolled out their brand evolution. Their new slogan is very simple - “it’s all about you.” You customize your drink to however you like it. But we tend to extend this customization philosophy to all aspects of our lives - thinking that everything will align into how we want it. In our heads we start to combine all these qualities and make up a “perfect choice”, one that we constantly try to strive for. This happens with jobs, with relationships, with school, and with many other parts of our lives. When we don’t achieve this fantasy of ours, we have thoughts such as “I’ll never find the perfect person/job/group/etc”. But it’s time to get back to reality - life is no Starbucks. There will be costs and tradeoffs to the path you choose. You need to decide what’s important to you, what you’re willing to accept and what you won’t compromise on.
This sounds easy on paper, but how do you go about doing it? You must truly seek the wisdom from God, who will start to reveal to you what is actually important. But then along with that, you must be on a pursuit of continual transformation of your hearts. Then these values will start to seep into every part of your being, and the decisions you make constantly align with those values. All of a sudden, choices will become so much easier to decide on.