Barry Schwartz is the author of a book entitled, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less”. A few years ago, Parade magazine ran an article that was adapted from his book. Surprisingly, Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, states that “our unprecedented material abundance” is “a cause of unhappiness” (2004, p. 4). How so? Contemplate for a moment your last trip to a large retailer. In the hair care aisle you were likely “confronted with more than 360 types of shampoo, conditioner and mousse” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 4). How do you decide which item to purchase? Most of us want the best product at the most affordable price. But with so many options, which of those 360 “fit the bill”?
As it turns out, we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to think that we “should never have to settle for things that are just ‘good enough'” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). Schwartz calls those that actually believe this “maximizers” (2004, p. 5). “Maximizers”, in a “nut shell”, just are not content. For example, when in a car listening to the radio, a “maximizer” will “often check other stations to see if something better is playing” even if they are “relatively satisfied” with what they are listening to (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). Have you ever found yourself doing something like this?
As Schwartz concludes, “Unattainable expectations, plus a tendency to blame ourselves for our failure, make a lethal combination” (2004, p. 5). We need to constantly remind ourselves of the principle Paul first shared with his “son in the faith”, Timothy:
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NASB)
Yes, we need to learn to be content with those things God promised to provide if we will “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
Schwartz offers the following advice to help us find this type of contentment. I’ll conclude by sharing those tips with you.
- First, “Choose when to choose” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). If something isn’t vitally important, purposely limit your choices. For example, limit your shopping to one store when desiring to purchase a particular item or one or two restaurants when you want to dine out.
- Second, “Learn to accept ‘good enough'” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). Finding something that is the “best” is usually an unattainable task. You often make yourself more anxious in the pursuit of it. Instead, settle on that which will “do the job” and put it out of your mind.
- Third, “Don’t worry about what you’re missing” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). In other words, don’t waste time thinking about those choices and options you’ve decided not to pursue. There is no reason for you to agonize yourself by thinking what “might have been” had you “gone another route”. Learn to be “content with the choices you’ve made” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5).
- Finally, “Control your expectations” (Schwartz, 2004, p. 5). How you decide whether or not you have made the “correct” choice is usually dependent upon how it measures up to your expectations. Schwartz says, “It may be a cliché to say, ‘Don’t expect too much, and you won’t be disappointed’–but it is good advice to follow if you want to be more satisfied with your life” (2004, p. 5).
Certainly these are not behaviors that we develop easily. Just like the apostle Paul, we have to learn to be content (cf. Philippians 4:11). Let us take careful inventory of our life, realize our abundant blessings, avoid self-inflicted disappointment, and praise God for all He has already done.
Schwartz, B. (2004, January 4). When It’s All Too Much. Parade, pp. 4-5.