The distance between your reality and your expectation is your amount of suffering.
In this era, in the Western world, we are faced with an overwhelming amount of opportunity, of choice. It is known to be a wonderful thing having the opportunity to do this or to do that but in reality this overload of choices can diminish our happiness. It can take us away from the feeling of satisfaction.
It is inevitable that no matter where we go, we will have a variety of choices. It is as simple as stopping at a rest stop to grab a snack. Despite the fact you have to choose what snack you want you have to choose what drink you want, the choices seem endless. You walk down the candy isle at the gas station… all you want is a snack you can nibble on for the next few hours. But that is not an easy task, you end up walking down the four isles of goodies that are offered, not to mention the selection at the front by the cashier, but you manage to pick a few things out but debate on what to buy. You ask your friend what they are getting and they as well are struggling to come to a decision until you finally decide that you want chocolate. But then you have to decide if you want a chocolate bar, chocolate that comes in a bag like M&Ms, or if you want chocolate filled with mint, peanut butter or nuts. And that is not all then you have to decide what drink. You have to scan the entire back wall of refrigerators to see the endless selection. You simply want a bottle of water but that is too much to ask as you are presented with an entire refrigerator dedicated to all the water bottle brands. You finally make a decision and get back on the road. You realize you should have gotten Coke instead of water because it would have tasted better with your chocolate candy. Next time you will not get the chocolate because now it is melting in your hand. So consequently, you are now disappointed. Why? Because you had all these choices, which sets you up for a high expectation of the choice and then when it does not meet that high expectation you are disappointed. If you only had the choice of one drink or one choice of snack then you would not have had this feeling of dissatisfaction because there would not have been a choice.
This can also go as deep when dealing with a serious situation. In the old days there was typically one choice when you were sick. You take this medicine and hope it works. Now you have the choice to take this medicine, with these sides effects and benefits and three other options with those side effects and benefits. Dr. Barry Schwartz talks about this issue in depth in his book The Paradox of Choice.
In Dr. Schwartz’s studies he concludes that, “choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.”
Say your grandfather is sick with cancer. The doctor offers two procedures but says either way there is chance of death. But it is up to you, the patient’s family, to make the decision. This is called patient autonomy, when the burden is put on the family and the doctor no longer makes the final call. Unfortunately this creates stress and unhappiness.
When your grandfather passes away for whatever reason the choice you made for him already created stress and tension for your family but now brings the feeling of regret and guilt. You now think if you decided to do the other procedure things could have been better, that he would have survived or lived longer. The blame is now placed on you. Although really it is not you to blame, before when there was not so much choice and the doctor would say this is what we do without debate. It would release the possibility of the feelings of blame. No longer would you feel that is was your fault and you made the wrong choice. But now, we feel because the choices our in the palms of our hands that it is our fault.
Consequently our rate of satisfaction goes down affecting our state of mind.
Say you want to buy a new camera, so you go to Best Buy and ask, “Can I have a camera?” Well it is not that simple. There are hundreds of choices. First the sales guy may ask, “What brand do you want?” Well then you say, “What brands do you have?” And then he starts listing them off, “Canon, SONY, Nikon, Fujifilm, Samsung, Olympus, Kodak, Panasonic…” From there you have to decide what brand it is you want, what kind you want, if you want the extra lens, or if you want these effects… and so on. Eventually we make a decision. One that was more difficult than it used to be because of the demanding choices. But in the end you settle with one.
You then take it home and your friend asks, “Why didn’t you get the Canon?” or “Why didn’t you get the one that includes the night time feature?” This creates a sense of dissatisfaction as you think, “Oh well if I got the other one this photo would have been better.” Or, “Next time I will get a Canon because I do not like this one as much.” The choices in all aspects of life start to paralyze us and we do not know what to choose or what to do. We are constantly unsatisfied.
The Pressure from Opportunities
The paralysis of opportunity becomes extremely present and powerful when one is deciding a future career or educational path. Because in the Western world we have the opportunity to go to school across the country, out of the country or stay in-state. We have the opportunity to travel abroad in Asia, Africa, and beyond. We have the opportunity after graduating college to travel, get a job, continue school, or move home. The opportunities presented to us at a young age can paralyze us. The endless amount of opportunities can harm our current state of happiness.
In the end, we have to make a decision. The choice is on us; we do not have people making our decisions or a one-way road. Not in this generation.
Once we make a final decision say to go to college across the country instead of stay in state. We have a high expectation to enjoy this college because of all the choices we had. However it does not meet your expectations so you transfer to a college in state hoping this will bring you the happiness or contentment the other school was supposed to bring you. In the end, it is the same. Therefore, you loose hope and your rate of satisfaction is lowered because of the high expectations that were supposed to come along with the variety of choice.
Or say, you could choose anywhere to study abroad. So you decide to go to Spain and your friend decided to go to Australia. You realize your friend is having more fun than you and you should have gone to Australia. (I studied abroad in Spain and I had the best time of my life, this is just a scenario). You are less satisfied with your trip because you had the opportunity to go to Australia but you chose somewhere else. Although in reality taking that opportunity would not necessarily be better than the one you chose, you just think it would be because of your high expectations for each opportunity.
In these moments you get lost in all the ways you could have gone. You regret it because all of the opportunity. And when you get lost wishing you did one thing it is impossible to enjoy your current state because you are thinking you were somewhere else. No matter what path you decide, there will be struggle, lose and low points. It will not be all sunflowers and daisies. Yet you think that is possible because there are so many options, that one has to be that great. That is not true.
Remember that in life comes low points and that does not mean you took the wrong path. Accept where are you and find peace in the present and comfort in your life. As my grandmother would say, “dejá lo!” which means, “let it be!”
Lost in Choices
Opportunity is meant to be a beautiful thing that this generation does not have to work as hard for as their parents did. Our parents wanted the 9-5 job and earn a fair living. This generation does not want a 9-5 job because we are presented with overwhelming opportunity to do so many things that are possible and acceptable in society.
It is not our fault that we have so many choices but we have to be aware that this amount of opportunity can affect our level of happiness.
We see our friends travelling the world and automatically desire to do what they are doing. The concept that we have the choices that our parents would never dream of after they graduated college can be detrimental to finding peace in our present life.
It is also easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by the concept of opportunity that we ourselves get lost in the choices. We feel like there are so many choices that we do not know what is right for us and start to feel dissatisfaction in the road we took.
If there were only one-way to go like our parents had: graduate, get a 9-5 job, get married, etc. there would be less feelings of dissatisfaction.
With that in mind and the fact that we cannot change this modern world we have to come to terms with opportunity. Because it is so easy to become dissatisfied in this society we have to understand that no matter the decision we make we become strong, we grow and although we may question the road we took, we have to remember that we are being paralyzed by choice.
We set high standards for the road we take because we started with a handful of roads to travel and expect the road we choose will bring us the highest rate of satisfaction. And when we find ourselves struggling on the path, which in every path we take we will find obstacles, we then become paralyzed by opportunity. We then think because we are struggling on the path we took that we should not have gone this way and instead we should have taken the job opportunity in Seattle or whatever it was that we did not do. We forget how to find peace and happiness in the road we took because of all the distractions around us.
The Power of Social Media
When we see our friends on social media posting pictures it is easy to feel that your life is not as good because your friends are posting these awesome photos. But you have to remember that what people post is a way they “brand” themselves, how they want others to see them. They post only what they want others to see, essentially the best photos, which makes others think they are having a great time all the time.
When in reality we all have issues. We have to realize that it is awesome our friends can be having fun but that does not mean their life is better than yours because you see them partying at the beach or climbing a volcano. We have to realize that social media is a way people want others to see them and so they create an image that does not necessarily mean they are worry free. So when you feel a sense of sadness that you wish you were there (or as we say FOMO) do not let it bring your level of happiness down because of their social media image. And that is also referring to the chapter Finding Solid Ground, discussing the importance of not comparing yourself to others. However, it is easy in this era to have a lower rate of happiness because you see what the world is doing twenty-four seven.
Do not let the overbearing presence of social media lower your level of happiness. If it makes it easier, do not use social media as much as you typically do, stray away from the clutter that is hurting your state of happiness.
In this society we are poured with distractions and choices that we forget where we are in life. We forget we chose this path for a reason, we had to make a choice and we chose this one. And we forget that this path can bring us happiness but we are stopping ourselves from that feeling of happiness because of the distracting chances of opportunity around us.
Taking aside the idea of chances and opportunity we were born into a society of distractions, TVs, phones, electronics, at anytime most anywhere in the world we can be contacted. When are parents were growing up it would be unfathomable for them to think they could get in touch in with us across the world within seconds, having the internet so accessible.
We are spoiled with technology and have become consumed in the materialistic part of society. A study of media usage and ad exposure done by Media Dynamics Inc. came to the conclusion that the average number of advertisements and brand exposures per day per person are 5,000 plus.
We see an estimated 5,000 advertisements per day. No wonder our generation is a little confused. We are bombarded with choices as simple as choosing which brand of jeans to buy to what to restaurant to eat at.
We were born to have high expectations because of the unlimited amount of choices. Therefore we need to learn to not set the bar so high.
If we lower our expectations of our choices our rate of satisfaction will go up. That is obvious. If you go out with your friends (instead of doing the other countless options) and do not expect to have a good night, the chances of being more satisfied rise. We need to understand that despite the several choices we have that does not mean the choice will gives us this greater sense of satisfaction; that no matter the quantity in choices the quality will not necessarily be so much greater just because the option is there. And we would never know how great the other choice would be, but we assume it would be better because we are not satisfied with the one we took because we had set that high standard.
Regret Follows Decisions
The other paralysis of opportunity is the notion of regret. We regret not going one way and taking the other route. That is why we cannot regret decisions we have made because they cannot be changed. We cannot reverse time. We have to accept each action and take something of value from it. Otherwise it is a lose-lose situation. We make mistakes but that is how we grow. Some of us need to make the mistakes in order to learn and grow.
We need to remember that with the overload of choices it can paralyze us and have us stuck in confusion, flustered, not knowing which way to go. You have to step away from the chaos, take a deep breath, and feel what your heart desires most. Sometimes with harder decisions it is not something that can be made right away. You may need time to escape in your body and find where your soul wants to travel. And once we are able to getaway from the overwhelming feeling of opportunity we can find what path that is the best for us. Then we can take it and the stress of all those choices are ceased. And after we take this path we may start to struggle or regret that we did not choose the other direction. But we have to remember what made us choose this path – your gut. So just because there were many other options that does not mean it was the wrong way to go. You are forgetting the purpose of why you took this path. You are getting lost and paralyzed in opportunity.
Remember that in this life there will be plenty of opportunities, it is no longer about finding them, it is choosing one and accepting it.
Ground yourself, make the decision you want using your mind, find contentment in your path, and focus on the present, the reality. Do not dwell on the if, could-a, would-a, should-a.
This is your life and if you choose to let the overwhelming options, opportunities and the constant connection with social media crowd your mind you will find yourself lost, confused and unhappy. So become aware of all that is around but be able to ground yourself and let your mind become clear of all that chaos. Remember that opportunity can hurt you if you do not live in the present and remember why you are here in the first place. And if it is not where you want to be, step away from all of the noise. It will help you find the direction you want to travel. Give yourself that time, you deserve it.
1. Do not let the overwhelming amount of choices and opportunities overwhelm your state
2. Do not set a high standard for the road you take because you had so many choices
3. Be content with the road you take
4. Focus on the present… enjoy life’s opportunities!