OWL Magazine Korea

“The Conditions of Choice: What Makes People Happy?” by Bas Kast

The more options we have, the more freedom we perceive ourselves to possess. It’s commonly believed that with more freedom comes greater happiness.

However, in reality, having more choices doesn’t necessarily lead to infinite happiness. Instead, having too many options can be a source of stress.

Bas Kast’s book, “The Conditions of Choice,” delves into the relationship between choice and happiness.

“The Stress of Too Many Choices”

Reflecting on my childhood, making decisions was always challenging. Even something as simple as buying groceries would lead to prolonged hesitation and deliberation.

As an adult, whenever faced with situations requiring choices, the abundance of options often led to significant stress. Whether purchasing electronics or clothing, making a single choice was never easy.

The book explores why the decision-making process was so difficult.

“Why Material Abundance Doesn’t Lead to Spiritual Abundance”

The book begins by addressing why material wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into spiritual fulfillment. In modern society, we enjoy greater material abundance than in the past. However, paradoxically, we often lack spiritual richness.

While circumstances have improved compared to the past, overall life satisfaction remains relatively low, especially among women despite increased empowerment.

“The Stress of Too Many Choices”

The book discusses how the abundance of choices in modern society leads to stress and decreases life satisfaction. Having too many options diminishes overall satisfaction.

In the past, the range of choices available was limited. However, in contemporary society, we’re responsible for choosing and executing almost everything ourselves. Consequently, making a wrong choice leads to greater disappointment and guilt.

The act of choosing incurs opportunity costs, and excessive expectations placed on chosen alternatives contribute to decreased satisfaction. With so many options available, individuals often find themselves questioning whether their choices were truly right or if there were better alternatives, leading to a decrease in quality of life.

“The Ideal Number of Choices: 5-9”

The book discusses various experiments to illustrate these phenomena, such as the famous jam experiment. By offering jams in either 6 or 24 varieties and observing subsequent purchasing behavior, researchers found that too many options resulted in decreased purchasing desire and satisfaction. This phenomenon is known as the “paradox of choice.”

Ultimately, psychologist George A. Miller introduced the concept of “7” as a mystical number, representing the optimal number of choices. People can typically remember an average of 7 units of information, so a range of “5-9” choices provides the highest satisfaction.

“The Easterlin Paradox”

Research by economist Richard Easterlin supports the author’s claims. Since the 1970s, Easterlin has been studying the relationship between money and happiness and has discovered several contradictions.

Once basic needs are met, additional income has little impact on happiness, leading to the “Easterlin Paradox.” Wealth can provide material abundance but can also hinder maintaining intimate relationships and weaken mental well-being.

Experimental results show that merely viewing images of money can increase social distance, and severed social connections can lead to increased desire for wealth.

“The Psychological Stress of Modern Society”

As society becomes increasingly meritocratic, modern individuals live busy lives and experience a constant sense of anxiety.

Both successful and unsuccessful individuals feel a sense of anxiety from the perspective of others who view their achievements or failures as having distinct reasons. Falling behind in a competitive society inevitably leads to being labeled a “loser.”

Factors contributing to psychological anxiety include the prevalence of “can do, want to do, and must do” tasks in modern society and the perception of “time equals money.” Consequently, despite always being busy, modern individuals live with a sense of constant anxiety.

As urban areas grow, stress levels increase, and research shows that with each additional resident, people’s movement speeds increase by 0.1 meters per second.

“The Paradox of Too Many Choices: How to Achieve Happiness?”

Ultimately, the book argues that having too many choices leads to stress. However, living in a busy modern society, choice is essential.

Concepts such as opportunity costs associated with choice and the perception of time and money as equals are unavoidable for modern individuals.

Nevertheless, minimizing stress resulting from excessive choices is essential for living a healthy life. Developing a habit of making choices within a maximum range of about 7 options could be helpful.

While modern society is no longer materialistically lacking, our mindset may still be stuck in the past. New concepts suitable for modern society are necessary, as well as upgrades to our mental software.

Ultimately, only those who accept and adapt to change have survived for long. Similarly, heroes who survived until the end in historical tales constantly sought change.

Departing from past concepts, while living in a busy modern society and feeling occasional anxiety, is the destiny of modern individuals. However, taking breaks and seeking mental relaxation from time to time is also necessary.

“The Conditions of Choice: What Makes People Happy?”