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There’s No Such Thing as Having Too Many Options

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Nov 13, 2015, 1:20 pm
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Some people like Stuart Jeffries would limit your options to make your life “less stressful.” (Tukatuka)

EspañolDo you think that having to choose from 15 different kinds of tomato sauce is stressful? Does choosing the right school for your kids make you anxious? Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian claims that the fewer choices you have, the better.

Despite how revolutionary it might seem, the more options you have, the more freedom you enjoy to choose products and services. It’s as simple as that. Jeffries is quite mistaken in believing that having limited options will make us happier or help us feel less overwhelmed.

Jeffries, a television critic, fails to reveal the magic number that does away with stress. Is only one kind of product the ideal, so that we don’t waste our time thinking about what to choose? Should there be four brands of beer? Why not eight?

Jeffries writes that “for instance, Tesco used to offer 28 tomato ketchups while in Aldi there is just one in one size; Tesco offered 224 kinds of air freshener, Aldi only 12 – which, to my mind, is still at least 11 too many.”

It seems that in his perfect, stress-free world there’s only one kind of ketchup. But why would you push for fewer options for all when you can always shop at a smaller store or retreat to the countryside?

Maybe the author’s stress stems from not knowing what he wants. How difficult can it be to pick a bottle of water from a shelf?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines stress as “a condition of physiological or psychological disturbance to the normal functioning or well-being of an organism, occurring as a response to any of various environmental or psychosocial stimuli.”

This is what we Argentineans call “First-World problems.” This man is implying that having too many options can somehow cause health complications. It is almost a slap in the face for Cubans, Venezuelans, and Argentineans, since our governments have limited the amount of choices in supermarkets.

In the case of Cuba, there aren’t any options at all. The rationing system does all the work. Why over-complicate our lives by thinking what sort of rice we should buy, when the regime has already chosen for us? Isn’t this the best solution?

Undoubtedly, having the freedom to choose among different options means being responsible for our decisions. The freedom to choose creates a competitive market, which encourages manufacturers to specialize and perfect their products.

An economy that lacks competition is destined to end in failure. Jeffries should get on a plane to Venezuela and see if he can find spare parts for a vehicle any day, or stand in line — sometimes for over six hours — to buy basic products such as toilet paper.

I wonder if Jeffries enjoys having different types of toilet paper to choose from, since finding the option with silk extract and double rolls is almost an impossible task in the country ruled by Nicolás Maduro.

In Venezuela, there are no options.(<a href="https://twitter.com/NTN24ve/status/661007340649353216" target="_blank">NTN24</a>)
In Venezuela, there are no options. (NTN24)

People in Venezuela feel stressed precisely due to the lack of options and the shortage of basic products. It really is stressful to find yourself forced to spend hours and hours waiting to buy a carton of milk or a pack of diapers, or having to fight with one’s bare hands over a piece of chicken.

Maybe this would seem like fun to him.

Jeffries also mentions that sometimes, even if we do manage to make a choice in a sea of options, “we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.” He continues by saying that this phenomenon creates a new problem: expectations.

A False Premise

For Stephen Hicks, philosopher and professor at Rockford University in Illinois, what Jeffries proposes is a false argument.

“In the old days, people had fewer options and more stressful lives — partly because they knew that they had a smaller number of options when bad things happened,” he explains.

On the one hand, Jeffries’s Guardian article states that we face different options, yet we do not invest the necessary time in order to take more informed decisions. Either that, or we simply refuse to do the homework as we should, or we’re not confident in our decisions. According to the article, all of this produces stress.

However, more often than not, the amount of options available in the market excites us: “Look how many different options of nail polish!” one might say, or “It’s wonderful to have Jorge Luis Borges’ complete works just a click away!”

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Hicks explains that living in the modern world partly requires good judgement and a good decision-making ability. This no doubt includes knowing yourself, what you want and what you don’t want to change.

In that way, you’ll know which products and services you’re satisfied with and which you’d like to change. If you are happy with a certain brand of orange juice, you’ll stick to that product and ignore other options. The same thing happens with toothpaste, a car, an insurance plan, and so on.

And so, you will have left the field open to explore those aspects of life in which you are willing to try new things, make mistakes, or reward yourself for having made good decisions.

Translated by Marián Vázquez.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.