Sandra Cohen, R.N. & Roger Cormier, M.A.

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By Sandra Cohen, R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A.

   What makes you tired? Is it hard work, the demands of family life, a “to do” list that keeps growing, going to bed too late and getting up too early? One of the biggest causes of tiredness is having too many choices. Think about how many choices you make on an average day. Then think about how many options there are for each of these choices.

   Take the example of meals. In the old days people ate what was in season and stored in their pantry or icebox. Today we can eat in or out or order in. If we plan to eat in, we can choose from fresh, frozen, canned, boxed or shrink wrapped cuisine of any kind from our refrigerator, freezer or pantry. If we are low on food, we can go to any of several nearby supermarkets and choose from endless rows of items. Try counting the choices of cereals on one row of shelves? If we want to dine out, we have countless nearby choices of American and international cuisines as well as fast food.

   In our culture of superabundance the choices seem endless. Sit down to watch television and your remote might access dozens or even hundreds of stations. Time to buy a new car? Makes, models and mileage are among the many factors you are likely to consider before making your purchase. Just paging through the unsolicited catalogs that clutter your mailbox can take hours of your time.                                                                                                               

   It’s not just about material things. How do you plan your garden when you discover there are 800 available species of your favorite perennial? How do you allocate your limited “free”   time to family, friends, your favorite hobbies and leisure activities, and service, spiritual or religious organizations that appeal to you? How do you decide how to distribute your limited charitable dollars and volunteer time in the face of so many local, national and worldwide causes and research, service or advocacy organizations?

   Whether you’re deciding on a pair of jeans, a mobile phone calling plan, a Medicare prescription drug discount card, mutual funds for your 401K or a book on the meaning of life, learning the options and making your decisions can wear you out. How are you handling the hidden stress of making choices?

   Depending on your personality, values and attitude, you might feel compelled to make the very best choice in every matter. That can make you crazy or immobilize your decision making process. Or you can decide to not decide. For example, you can postpone moving up from your personal computer or laptop to a more mobile tablet computer to spare yourself the anticipated research and learning curve.

   We recommend the common sense approach of “Enough’s enough.” Too many options can wear us out, paralyze us and distract us from tending to our deepest values and the simplest pleasures of our lives. If having too many choices is wearing you down, find practical ways to reduce that burden and give it a try. Gain some insight by reading “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less“ HarperCollins, 2004) by Barry Schwartz or “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse” (Random House, 2003) by Gregg Easterbrook.

 Also, think of an older relative or friend who seems to know when “good enough” is good enough and who seem free from the accelerating choice burden.  Talk with them about whether their earlier, simpler life provided greater satisfaction with less choice and whether later in life they learned the hard way that more choice doesn’t necessarily mean greater happiness.