Difficult choices: how to avoid unhappiness & do the right thing

Difficult choices

I always advocate the importance of making your own choices. You’re different than the people around you, and you need to find a path that’s right for you.

And yet, I recently came to think about the fact that sometimes, having a choice is not the best thing.

Have you ever been in a happy relationship, yet kept wondering if there was someone else out there for you? Have you ever chosen a career path you were passionate about, yet kept envying other people’s careers? Or have you ever wondered whether you’re stupid not to get that nose job, even though you don’t really want it?

If you’ve answered yes to either of those questions, you and I are in the same boat. Truth be told, all of these have crossed my mind so many times. And millions of other similar thoughts right with them.

This TED talk about the paradox of choice actually inspired this article. It opened my eyes to the reason behind so many internal struggles I was having. And it finally made me realise that not every choice is worth obsessing about!

Why choice can represent constraint, not freedom

Some situations would be easier if you didn’t have a choice.

That nose job topic, for example. My Jewish nose is something that I was often teased about when I was a child. And as a child, I always dreamed about changing it one day. But once I reached an age where this became a possibility, I had already stopped obsessing about it so much. I knew quite well that neither my personality, my relationships, nor my career would improve in any way if my nose was smaller.

And yet, I keep seeing other people (with smaller noses than me) getting theirs done. And it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Shouldn’t I be okay with my nose? Should I just take the plunge and get it done, even if it isn’t worth the risk for me?

In the end, some situations would be easier if we didn’t have a choice. It would enable us to accept things, instead of constantly evaluating our decisions.

In her TED talk, Sheena Iyendar points out that having to make a choice can make us feel trapped, guilty, and wondering what might have been. In these cases, choices impose constraint instead if liberation.

The key to not obsessing about every single choice is to discard some options. According to Dan Ariely, we do this already without even noticing, especially when choices seem too hard. 

So why not do it on purpose once in a while? Sometimes, you can just follow your gut feeling and choose to not consider an option.

How to choose between work and leisure

Who hasn’t read numerous blog posts and motivational speeches telling us that we can achieve anything if we just work hard enough?

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that. But working hard is not exactly very specific. What does it actually mean? Should we work every minute of every hour of every day? Or should we strive to find a healthy balance that takes into account all the other important aspects of our lives?

In our society, we constantly have access to everything. The limit between work and leisure gets more and more blurry. Barry Schwartz talks about it in his TED talk The paradox of choice (which I highly recommend!). 

For me, this limit sometimes completely disappears and results in me working in front of a Netflix show on a Sunday night. But is that work? Is that leisure? Or is that just an unhealthy mixture that makes me produce bad quality work while not taking advantage of my free time?

I personally believe that the latter is true. And the choice to work or not to work just shouldn’t be as hard. 

It makes no sense to constantly work because there’s so much more to life than our job. According to Robert Waldinger, good relationships are actually the most important ingredient of happiness!

You need to set a time for work and a time for all the other aspects of your life. It’s not easy, but it’s better to predetermine specific time slots rather than to constantly think « shouldn’t I be working right now? ».

How to avoid making disappointing choices 

When you get to choose between option A and option B, it’s relatively easy to determine which one you want. But imagine you get one hundred different options to choose from. How do you figure out which one is the right one for you? And more importantly, how do you do so without spending years of your life just to make this one choice?

The problem is, we don’t just get one hundred different choices. When you’re choosing your career, there’s an unlimited number of choices to what you could do with your life! And the same goes for so many other aspects of your life. 

One of my best friends found her soulmate when she was 17. And for years, she always told me how happy she was with her relationship, and yet kept wondering whether there was someone better out there for her.

And really, how can you blame her? When the first choice you make ends up being a good one, you don’t even have anything to compare it to. All you do is look at what other people have. And since the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, you can’t help but notice all the negative parts of your situation.

Ruth Chang describes the difference between hard choices and easy choices quite well. In easy choices, option A is better than option B. In hard choices, option A is better in some ways, yet option B is better in other ways.

You have to remember that nothing is only positive – and nothing is purely bad. Every situation, every decision in life has upsides and downsides. Just like there is a silver lining to every bad thing that happens, every good thing has a slightly bitter taste to it as well.

As long as we’re searching for the perfect solution, we won’t ever be happy. All it will do is make us question every decision we make because we’ll always end up unsatisfied with the results.

According to Ruth Chang, it’s also a mistake to choose one thing over the other just because one option seems safer. The fear of the unknown is not a good indicator of what would be best for us.

So instead, we should focus on the positive. Being grateful for the good things we have is the first and most important step to achieving happiness. And that includes accepting that no matter what choice we make, it can never be perfect.

Difficult choices: how to avoid unhappiness & do the right thing

So now tell me, what is your experience with choices? Do you believe that it’s best to always have a choice, or do you tend to feel overwhelmed by too many options? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share this article if you liked it!

14 Replies to “Difficult choices: how to avoid unhappiness & do the right thing”

  1. Karina – thanks for these thoughts. I certainly struggle sometimes with having too many choices and trying to discern which one is right for me. On the other hand, I find not having enough choices can also be a struggle.

    You are beautiful with the nose you have – don’t change it.

    1. Thank you! Yes, that’s true. It’s good to have choices, but having too many quickly becomes overwhelming.

  2. Great read! I look forward to more. Thank you

    1. I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

    1. Thank you!

  3. I do like having options but no more than 3 presented at a time. But I quickly am decisive when it comes to making a choice. Thanks for sharing a great article.

    1. That’s great! And I’m glad that you liked the article. 🙂

  4. I can definitely relate to this ! Thank you for sharing, it’s weird how flustered I get having to make Decision on something. I like the point you made of being given 100 different options and what I would choose that works… I never thought about things like that and will now start … I feel like that is literally a life changer!!

    1. Thank you, I’m so happy that you found the article helpful! 🙂

  5. A truly beautiful article. I always think that choices make my life complicated due to my overthinking tendencies. Sometimes I don’t like to check for options anymore and go to where I know I can sleep better at night where guilt, regrets, shame and other negative emotions haunt me. This is why I became a minimalist. I yearn for simplified life and if there’s an aspect of it I can truly control, like my stuff, just to avoid overthinking about the choices, I definitely would. I will check the TED Talk out. ♥️

    1. I’m the same, I sometimes prefer not checking if there are other options because I get overwhelmed so fast! You make a great point about being a minimalist, it does make your life so much easier.

  6. I can relate to this on so many levels. There are times where too many choices is a little stressful, but at the same time if I’m left with only one choice that’s difficult too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re right, both aren’t the best options, and both can be really frustrating. I’m glad that you can relate!

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