When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices – The New Yorker

Why are well-fed people in affluent countries often unhappy and anxious?

The choices between those objects that they valued most highly were both the most positive and the most anxiety-filled. The more choices they had—the study was repeated with up to six items per choice—the more anxious they felt.

What changes as we move from the scarcity of wartime Warsaw to the abundance of the First World isn’t the nature of the anxiety, it’s just the nature and significance of the choice itself. In one case, it seems heart-wrenching; in the other, trivial. Our brains, though, don’t make those kinds of value judgments: to them, a difficult choice is a difficult choice. And difficult choices mean anxiety.

Source: When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices – The New Yorker


Having good choices might foster critical thinking, self-reliance, etc. But that doesn’t stop it the experience from being stressful or making you anxious, possibly even for a long time after you’ve made the decision, which IMHO was the takeaway from the article — that the more impactful and closer a choice is, the harder it is and the more anxious that makes people. Needing to pick between job offers in your home town, or far away in the big city can still make you anxious, but it is still good to have that choice. And nowhere in the article do I see support for the state/government to step in to artificially reduce choice.

How many people agonize over where to go to college, what to major in, or whether or not to get engaged/married to their current significant other, or regret such decisions years or decades later *because they changed their mind about being able to do better*? IMHO, they aren’t upset that they made an objectively bad choice (although I’m sure that happens too), but that they feel they made a relatively bad choice given that they now know all the details and specifics of their actual choice and only know the highlights of the foregone choice.