Why Choice is Painful
If everybody stopped making things now, we would still have access to more art than existed in all previous generations of humanity combined. When we want to read, watch, listen or play, we face choice that was unimaginable to our predecessors. Far too often, we find the choice stifling and so don’t choose at all.
The pain of choice is not in deciding what we want. It is knowing that in choosing, we reject the cornucopia which within it might contain the jewel we always wanted, or needed.
Our search for the best is impossible. We have to learn to live with the idea that we will never be able to take in all the world has to offer, but that the beauty we do take in will still enrich us more than any previous generation could dare dream. In doing so, we have to tolerate a sense of loss, a fear of missing out, to a degree that nobody ever prepared us for, because how could they?
Just two centuries ago, nobody had photos, never mind videos. Today, in every moment, thousands of hours of video are being created and shared, never mind the tens of thousands of photos. Most people had few, if any books, but today, we waste our time talking about fake news, when the entire library of humanity is available to us at the tap of a screen. Movies were beyond even the wildest science fiction and as for virtual reality games, the mind boggles at how shocked our ancestors would have been; that we can take this in our stride is almost perplexing.
Choice is hard because of the idea of “opportunity cost”. What is the cost of saying “yes” to this thing? It’s not just the cost of purchase or investment, it’s the cost of loss of all other opportunities that we might have pursued, some of which might take us down a “better” or more enriching path. That’s why decision is painful, but it’s also why, given the infinity of “opportunity” before us today, it’s also more painful than ever.
If we can only switch our attention away from the knowledge that we will never enjoy everything, to the knowledge that we will still enjoy more than anyone dared to dream, we will be rich beyond measure. We are rich beyond measure, but we find it so hard to see that.