Student finds choices overwhelming

Vincent Stigliani/Opinion Editor

The other day, I was waiting in line at an ice cream shop when it hit me. As is often the case, I could not decide what I wanted. There was a handful of forms the ice cream could come it (cone, shake, cup, smoothie, etc.), all that could come in four different sizes. Then there were about 50 different flavors, all that could be had alone or in a combination. And then there were the optional toppings. I made a hurried decision, but all these decisions set me up for disappointment. How could I be content with my decision when there were hundreds of options I didn’t choose?

Although this realization came to me while ordering ice cream, the issue actually goes much deeper. Undoubtedly, we have much more choices in all facets of our lives than people did 50 years ago, and it is likely that we will have even more 50 years from now, but this increase of options does not necessarily make us happier or more content.

According to my experience at the ice cream parlor, happiness is not found in limitless flavors, forms, and sizes. Still, I would have felt undoubtedly disappointed if my option was limited to a medium sized vanilla cone. Personally, I don’t even like cones and I do prefer a more dressed up flavor like spumoni or moose tracks. So, what is the perfect amount of choice?

Well, the answer to this question isn’t easy to decipher. There is a fine line between choices empowering and just plain overwhelming. I think of being a child and going to the grocery store with my mother. She would allow me to choose the cereal we would eat that week. While the cereal aisle can be daunting on one’s own, my mother’s guidelines automatically eliminated whole shelves of boxes bearing household names such as Cap’n Crunch and Lucky Charms.  Then there was the price limit factor, which left me with a group of cereals that came in drab orange boxes and bore the titles of All Bran or Grape Nuts.

It goes against common understanding of happiness to actually feel empowered by limits—in this case, price and sugar content. However, I can say that I never once looked back after selecting the box of Quaker Oat Squares. At home I savored my breakfast without pining for Lucky Charms. I believe that this is the medium between too many choices and too few.

The difficulty is establishing those limitations for oneself in a country that is known for giving the consumer free choice.  Perhaps the answer is to decide what kind of person you want to be and then limit yourself accordingly.  Going back to the ice cream—long term, I want to live to ripe and short term, I’d like to avoid a migraine from too much sugar—looks it’s the small bowl of frozen yogurt.

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