Reality Check: The Happiness of Eliminating Options

Keeping our options open is often perceived as positive. “What are you doing for vacation?” “I’m keeping my options open.” Or, “Have you decided who you will marry?” “No, I’m keeping my options open.”

There’s a delightful sense of freedom that can come with perceiving our world as being filled with options and unlimited possibilities.

Yet, there’s also a downside to having too many choices open and under active consideration. As Dr. Joel Wade puts it in “Mastering Happiness,” “Every choice takes time and energy. There is a certain degree of anxiety that accompanies every choice.”

Even when a choice isn’t hugely important, keeping our options open (otherwise known as “not making a decision”) can be a surprisingly high drain of our energy.

For example, I’ve been choosing to fret over a repair service that I need. I’m not enthusiastic about Company A whom I’ve used in the past, so I think that maybe I’ll find someone new. I have a positive impression about Company B, but I’m not sure they do what I need. And there could be other, even better companies that I haven’t even considered.

As there’s no emergency, I can put off the decision. Which I have.

What’s the result? The question keeps popping up in my head! Especially when doing routine work, my mind brings up disturbing little questions: What if this becomes an emergency? What if I can’t find anyone? What if they make it worse?

As I do have some logical thinking ability, I know the action to take. All I really need to do is call Company B to see if they can do this. Then I’ll know.

But, what if I don’t get the answer I want? As long as I don’t find out for sure, the option remains open in my mind that Company B might be a possibility. It may be an illusion, but it’s a comforting illusion.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But I know I’m not alone in my decision-delaying, keep-my-options-open tendencies.

When you make a decision and stick with it, you eliminate the other possibilities from consideration. They’re gone.

For example, when you buy a new TV, you’ve eliminated all the other TV options. You can stop shopping. Throw out the TV ads; skip the magazine reviews. You no longer need to concern yourself with which is better. Just enjoy your new TV. Years from now, you may make a new choice. But for now, the options are closed.

By taking action and reducing the number of decisions under consideration, you reduce some of the anxiety that comes with open choices.

Big indecisions can come with big anxiety. The choice of where to live, what career to choose, even what people to welcome into our lives, can be life-changing and are worthy of thoughtful weighing of options.

But if we fritter away our valuable time and energy by keeping unimportant choices open, then truly important choices may not get the consideration they deserve. Worst case, our inaction may ultimately make the decision for us.

We all have limited time and energy. It’s more effective to use our energy on the choices that matter.

Yes, I did finally call Company B. Yes, they do the work I need. Yes, I feel better. And yes indeed, that’s a choice I don’t have to think about anymore.

What do you think about eliminating options?

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