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Variety: Not Always the Spice of Life

September 29, 2010

Brian Hoffstein
Variety: Not Always the Spice of Life

Every morning we wake up with the power to decide. We hold the sacred freedom to choose what we do with our lives and how we do it. Whether you're hitting the snooze button or scurrying to Collins to grab a pre-class bagel and coffee, the decision is yours to make. This cycle of choosing repeats itself in novel forms throughout the daily grind that is college life. We get to choose whether we study or party; watch Mad Men or take a nap; sink or swim. This power of choice is incredibly valuable. Intellectual guru Albert Camus acutely observed, "Life is the sum of all your choices." Meaning at the end of the day, your existence becomes what you make it. This realization – scary to some, liberating to others - has a profound impact on how we structure our lives.

Though we all may be capable decision makers, however, there is a recently accepted phenomenon that is impossible to evade. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it “The Paradox of Choice” and its effects are debilitating. Essentially, the assortment of options we encounter on a regular basis makes our decisions highly susceptible to doubt and regret; the increase in choice leads to an increase in opportunity cost. We falsely believe more choices yield better choices. In actuality, varied selection imposes greater stress and our selections yield less satisfaction.

So what the hell are we supposed to do? We have Albert Camus telling us the entire state of our lives rests in the choices we make...and we have Barry Schwartz telling us that choosing makes unhappy. WTF?!

To circumvent this quandary, let’s simplify our situation. How do we effectively deal with life’s choices in a way that maximizes our utility?

Tough decisions are inevitable but we can focus our attention on the choices that really matter. Establishing priorities helps eliminate the superfluous fluff that detracts from what is most important. By defining clear goals, we can put shift into autopilot and enjoy the ride. Choices can then be made by selecting the option that aligns with one’s ultimate motives, thereby removing the unwarranted chaos that distorts the greater picture of life.

The world will only continue to throw more obstacles and variables our way. Whether we are deciding on a major, a job, or what to do on a Thursday night without TNC--our options are limitless. Instead of second-guessing every decision, choose what matters and go with the flow. Rather than letting the outcome dictate how you feel about a situation, focus on making the most of what you do have control over.  Shakespeare understood this notion, alluding to the idea that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Take pride in your actions and screw the reactions. The journey is where all the fun is, not the destination.

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