Are too Many Choices In Life Actually a Bad Thing?

James Logie
Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

A few decades ago, there were only three networks on TV.

Today, they bombard us with content from all angles. How do you decide what to devote your time to?

Our appetite to consume content is insatiable, and all the options can seem overwhelming.

An abundance of choice may seem like a good thing in life, but it turns out it may cause too much distress. 

An Overwhelming Amount of Options

Think about all the options when you try to find something to watch. Besides all the cable channels we have, there are also all the streaming services.

Right now, some of those options include:

  • Netflix
  • Prime Video
  • Disney+
  • Hulu
  • HBO Max
  • Peacock
  • Apple TV
  • Crave TV
  • YouTube TV
  • Sling TV
  • Paramount Plus

That’s just a small example, as there are many more. You probably have several of these--and each one has thousands of options on it.

But that’s just the streaming services. What if you wanted to listen to a podcast? With over one million shows, where do you even start?

Maybe watching a late-night talk show can be a good way to unwind at the end of the day.

Let’s look at the options there:

  • The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
  • Jimmy Kimmel
  • Late Night with Seth Myers
  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  • A Little Late with Lilly Singh
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Conan
  • The Late Late Show With James Cordon

Again, that’s just a small sampling and these are all on at around the same time. This doesn’t even include the endless amount of news-based programs each night. 

When faced with so many choices, it’s easy to feel burned out with all the options and just walk away. 

More Isn’t Always Better

There may be a reason you feel overwhelmed when faced with too many options, and making a decision feels impossible.

This goes beyond just entertainment, as too many choices in life may actually be detrimental. It turns out there's even some science behind this. 

One study comes from the marketing world. In the year 2000, two psychologists looked into this issue of too many options.

The setting was in an upscale supermarket with jars of gourmet jam.

On the first day, they put twenty-four different varieties of jam out on a display table. On the next day, they displayed just six jams.

Customers that taste-tested the jams were given a coupon for $1 off any of them.

The larger display drew in more people than the small one, but when it came time to buy, those who saw more options were 1/10th as likely to buy compared to those who saw the six jams.

It turns out that not only is more choice not as good, but it can also decrease customer satisfaction.

Too many options can create “choice paralysis.” The study also looked at employees and retirement investment options.

As the number of retirement options increased, it became less likely that the employees would choose one.

How Do too Many Options Affect Our Well-Being?

There’s always been the assumption that the more choices and options we have, the better. This may not be true. 

The increase in options is decreasing our satisfaction. This may explain why something as simple as too much content makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed.

Ultimately, it’s good to have choice — but not too much choice. The Harvard Business Review reveals that too many options require more time and effort from us.

They share that this can lead to anxiety, regret, and self-blame if we choose the wrong thing. 

Having to narrow down a choice from dozens of options can be overwhelming and stressful — no matter what it is. 

I may want to start a new series on Netflix, but there’s the chance it won’t be good, I might regret it, and blame myself for a poor choice.

This is obviously a minor problem but even a little anxiety is still anxiety. 

Starting anything new always has an element of trepidation about it. We just don’t know what to expect with something we don’t know. 

We also create high expectations with something new and get disappointed when it doesn’t live up. And then we end up blaming ourselves. 

This is why during the pandemic you may have found yourself returning to the same movies, books, TV shows, and music you’ve always consumed. Those things are safe, and there’s a comfort and familiarity with them. 

When the choices are smaller, so are the potential costs. Those costs rise when we’re presented with more options.

All of those new choices can make us feel worse off than we previously did. 

Things may get worse the bigger the decision becomes. From shoes, a car, to a place to live; each new option can make us feel worse than before. 

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed trying to make a big decision in life recently — and the choices are causing you anxiety — you can know that it’s perfectly normal.

We do better with a smaller range of options to choose from. 

Final Thoughts

The entertainment example shows how overwhelmed we are with choice in our lives.

The minor aspect of entertainment can still contribute to a diminished sense of well-being. That’s the problem with too much choice. 

Looking at all the toothpaste options, the right car insurance, or which flavor of Oreo to buy are giving us too many decisions to wade through. 

It’s good to narrow things down to certain brands and decisions and stick with them. Sure, there may be better options out there, but there could also be worse. 

You're at least doing yourself a favor by avoiding the overwhelming choices and the detriment to my well-being. 

The example of consuming content shows how this abundance of choice negatively affects us on a daily level.

We’ve created unnecessary stress by thinking we have to catch up on a certain show or start that new series. No, you don’t.

There is no assignment here to consume anything. There is no requirement. These things are here for our enjoyment — not as a duty or obligation.

No matter what decision you make, it looks like it may be best to go with what you always know. Your well-being will thank you for it. 

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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