The paradox of choice why more is less
Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”
Our evaluation of our choices is profoundly affected by what we compare them with alternatives that exist only in our imaginations. The same experience can have both delightful and disappointing aspects. Which of these we focus on may determine whether we judge the experience to be satisfactory or not. When we imagine better alternatives, the one we chose can seem worse. When we imagine worse alternatives, the one we chose can seem better.
We can vastly improve our subjective experience by consciously striving to be grateful more often for what is good about a choice or an experience, and to be disappointed less by what is bad about it.
The research literature suggests that gratitude does not come naturally to most of us most of the time. Usually, thinking about possible alternatives is triggered by dissatisfaction with what was chosen. When life is not too good, we think a lot about how it could be better. When life is going well, we tend not to think much about how it could be worse. But with practice, we can learn to reflect on how much better things are than they might be, which will in turn make the good things in life feel even better.
It may seem demeaning to accept the idea that experiencing gratitude takes practice. Why not just tell yourself that “starting tomorrow, I’m going to pay more attention to what’s good in my life,”and be done with it? The answer is that habits of thought die hard. Chances are good that if you give yourself that general directive, you won’t actually follow it. Instead you might consider adopting a simple routine:
1. Keep a notepad at your bedside.
2. Every morning when you wake up, or every night when you go to bed, use the notepad to list five things that happened the day before that you’re grateful for. These objects of gratitude occasionally will be big (a job promotion, a great first date), but most of the time, they will be small (sunlight steaming through the bedroom window, a kind word from a friend, a piece of swordfish cooked just the way you like it, an informative article in a magazine).
3. You will probably feel a little silly and even self-conscious when you start doing this. But if you keep it up, you will find that it gets easier and easier, more and more natural. You also may find yourself discovering many things to be grateful for on even the most ordinary days. Finally, you may find yourself feeling better and better about your life as it is, and less and less driven to find the “new and improved” products and activities that will enhance it.