There is a phrase, almost a doctrine, and it goes like this:
“If you want to be really happy, the best way to get there is by maximizing your freedom.”
We all know how valuable freedom is; people die across the world to achieve it. It is worthwhile and essential to all of us. Doesn’t the mantra sound logical? Let’s say it again:
If you want to really be happy, the best way to get there is by maximizing your freedom.
When you are free, you can do all sorts of things that increase your happiness. You aren’t taking orders, no one makes decisions for you, you can work where you want, work when you want, worship where you want, and on it goes. When you are free, you have choices. And face it, most people you know who want to make more money don’t particularly care about gathering cash, per se; rather, they want the money because with money comes the freedom of choice. It actually brings more freedom into the lives of the ones who possess it.
That brings up a second thought:
“The more choices we have, the more freedom we have. The more freedom we have, the happier we are.”
People rarely question this statement. The greatest goals most people have today are neither job security nor a stable and happy family. The most desirable goal is more freedom to choose how they spend their lives. They want to do it on their own terms. Who isn’t just assailed with an unending list of choices these days? For example:
· Literally thousands of degree programs to select from are offered by colleges and technical schools across the country.
· Smartphones like my iPhone has access to all the knowledge of the world through hundreds of apps ranging from free to $10.
· Looked at the salad dressing or tomato sauce aisle in your grocery store lately? Or how about the cosmetics section of Macy’s?
You would think that if the doctrine of freedom making you happy is true, then we should all be happier. After all, its corollary, i.e., more choices make us happier, states it and we don’t often question it. It is at the core of how many of us lead our lives these days. But who among us is really any happier in the face of 100 different salad dressings, 75 different tomato sauces, or at least a dozen different kinds of toilet paper. Does it really make you happier knowing they’re there?
I am the last person to suggest that more choice and freedom is bad for us. No one, not even cynical me, would argue that limiting choices changes our world in a good way. And my clients and I regularly work on issues surrounding how managing their freedom brings them more happiness at a personal level. Yet there are negatives to choice, particularly when you have too many unnecessary ones. Here are some of the negative outcomes of choice overkill:
Too many choices lead to procrastination and inaction. Just imagine what would happen if Samsung actually made 10 different introductions to their cell phone lineup each year. Sales would drop, and people would freak out from too many choices to select from. (That was the wisdom of Steve Jobs.) Suddenly it would be hard to choose a phone and decide to purchase it. There is no issue of the quality or usability of the device; it would only be the nightmare of choosing that is the problem. At some point, the more choices we have, the harder it is to choose. Except when necessity forces them, most people will just walk away.
Another example is in embryonic companies. Most of them fail and it isn’t because of lack of resources or market size, but rather a clear lack of focus in the founding group. The smarter they are, the more elusive success can be. Smart people with great ideas and nearly unlimited resources have more choices. Yet in so many cases, more choices lead to delay and interruptions form lack of focus on the immediate core problem.
Opportunity cost concerns lead to evaluation and displeasure. Say you have seven apples to select from, and one of them is going to be the best apple you have ever had. You only have one chance to pick it and if you miss it, you will NEVER have a second chance for the world’s best apple. How does the prospect of that choice make you feel? Can you feel the level or expectation rise? You know that one of them is the best apple in the world, but your brain assumes that all five are the best. Even if in your heart you know that rationally and logically only one is the best, but we just assume that we will pick the best. No other thought is acceptable.
Bear in mind that even if you pick the “best apple” you just might not like it. You see you will never know what the other ones taste like. The thought will nag you indefinitely. It will grow from wonder, to dissatisfaction, to outright distaste. The opportunity cost of the other apples makes us crazy and results in real discontent.
If you think back across your life, you will likely find some place or time when this happened. Some people even come into my office and tell me that their partner isn’t what they want because there is always a better one, even when the partner they selected is actually the best choice for them!
Options and Choices
The more choices we have, the higher our expectations become. Choices get harder the higher the expectations. We compare our choice, each time after a decision, with the other imagined alternatives and try and not feel that what we have is just a little less better than the other options, even if the one we selected is empirically the right choice.
It isn’t really the conundrum it appears to be at first glance. The solution is right in front of you. First you need to abandon the doctrine that most of us follow. More choice does yield more happiness up to a point, but the path isn’t a linear one. More choice after some point will leave you in misery. Give limiting the choices a try by focusing on the most important thing. Here are a couple of examples of how to implement something like that in everyday life.
Pursue just one business idea or goal at a time.
Put your effort and time into that one goal and complete it before you move on to the next.
Remove all the unused “productivity” apps but one from your phone. I promise you, only one is needed. Additionally, try carrying a small notebook and pen with you for quick notes
Be satisfied with what you already have and whom you are with in your life. Appreciate your marriage, and make an effort to see the best in your life partner. Focus on gratitude and giving rather than getting.
Try setting only one fitness goal. You can’t cut fats, build mass, increase strength, and improve endurance as well as flexibility all at once. Pick the one most important to you and focus on it until you achieve it
Reduce the size of your target market. Find a niche and stick to it when developing a marketing program. Learn to talk to you clients in their language, not yours; that is easier when you have a narrow target.
When you come to a choice, e.g., work, relationships, finance, etc., focus on the choice you already made. Stop comparing your choice with the other remaining alternatives. Rather, focus on what you selected and making the best of it!
When you consider the blindingly fast development of technology today, you almost have limitless choices. That leads most of us to think that we have limitless freedom also so we can be happier. No limit is never a good thing and limitless freedom never leads to happiness. Yep, we do need a certain amount of freedom to expand our lives and grow, but without some intelligent constraints, we lose direction and discover that we have no plan, no standards, and most importantly, no happiness
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.