Option Paralysis

Here we are in the most technically advanced and prosperous period in all of recorded history. And I live in one of the wealthiest cities on the planet, in a wealthy province, in a wealthy country. Exotic foods from all over the world are sold at my local supermarket. Textiles, gems, spices, great works of art – all are available at the mall down the street. We live like kings and queens here.

So why do we complain?

Like Louis CK said on TV one night, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy.

Then there’s dating. A hundred years ago, when you got old enough to date, there were about 3 or 4 eligible singles to choose from within a day’s hard riding. You had to get married (because that’s what everyone did), and you said your vows, and you stayed together until one of you died. And you were probably happy with that, because, what other options were there?

Now you can date people from anywhere in the world. There’s no end of options. Dating websites have thousands of great singles looking for someone just like you. It’s awful, because none of them are a perfect fit. Either I don’t want to date them, or they don’t want to date me.

With thousands of options to choose from, why settle for less than perfection? So, a lot of us stay single for a long time, or go from relationship to relationship, or get married for five years and then go through a messy divorce.


We didn’t have these problems when we had no options. Now it doesn’t matter who you pick, you know there will always be someone better that you could have had if you’d only waited another week. So we end up regretting the one we got, and looking at all the others, and pretty soon we’re divorced and dating again. And because divorce is so common now, it’s acceptable, which means you don’t have to work at fixing the relationship you’re in – you can just throw your husband’s crap out the front door, change the locks, and go date the guy from Accounting while cleaning out your joint bank account.

Dissatisfaction isn’t limited to dating and marriage. We have unlimited options in all areas of our lives here in the wealthy West. Self-help gurus and prosperity coaches teach us in a never-ending stream of seminars, books, CDs and workshops that we can have anything we want if only we use their proven formula. We just have to visualize, affirm, commit, exercise, pray – whatever – and all that we can ask or imagine will be handed to us. Weight loss, wealth, spiritual enlightenment, the perfect career – it can all be yours!

There are thousands of voices telling us to strive for more, because what we have is not good enough. So just get online and order that new product now, before it’s too late and you can’t have it any more!

Simple case in point: When I first started shaving, over 20 years ago, the standard razor was a single blade. But Gilette had twin blades. They showed animations on their TV commercials, one with a single blade, the other with twin blades, and how the twin blade razor got all the stubble and the single blade didn’t. Then when they started losing market share to the store-brand twin-blades, they had to bring out a 3-blade shaver, and the commercials changed to show how the twin-blade razor just didn’t cut it, and you needed a 3-blade shaver instead. Then, not so long after, they came out with a 4-blade razor. It’s getting ridiculous. How many blades do we need?

They train us to become dissatisfied with what we have, because there is always more stuff available that they have not sold us yet. And if they are not selling us the stuff, they are selling us the seminar or the book about how you can get the stuff that you deserve to have, and how you should not limit yourself to merely enough – you should pay a fortune to some guru so you can learn to have more than enough.

Meanwhile, depression has become pandemic in our society. Visits to the doctor for depression and anxiety doubled between 1994 and 2004. And suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people over the age of 10.

Why are we so depressed and suicidal, when we live in a society where we can have anything we want?

I think you can guess by now what I’m getting at. For one, we are brainwashed by success gurus into believing that we can have more than we can actually afford. We buy into that brainwashing because we want so desperately to believe it. Then when we fail to get everything we’d dreamed of, we feel like failures.

And even when we get everything we want, there is always more to have. It’s simply impossible to get everything, to do it all or to be everywhere. We are always comparing what we already have, to what we could have. Dissatisfaction creeps in and kills the joy we had with our lives being just fine the way they were.

So I say screw it. If you want to be happy, then love the one you’re with, do the work in front of you, and enjoy the stuff you have.

Okay I’m done now.


About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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7 Responses to Option Paralysis

  1. Cindy says:

    There is a HILARIOUS SNL skit about the evolution of the blade. The cartoon’d demonstrations show, just like Gilette taught us, how the first blade lops off the top portion of the hair shaft, the second blade sheers off that infintessimal bit more, the third blade actually lifts the hair shaft up out of the skin from its follicular roots to lop off that microscopic bit more slightly beneath the skin … and SNL takes the multiple blade obsession to the obvious Nth degrees where fine layers of skin are actually sheered off, then bits of muscle tissue, ultimately the bone itself is grazed for maximum finesse. Meanwhile they intersperse the CGI with real life clips and all the gruesome gore you’d expect from SNL.

    Oh, look, MADTv did one too:

    But SNL’s was funnier, more blood. Which I’m looking for … but omg! lol … found this instead:

    Sadly, I can’t find the SNL skit on Youtube. But I digress.

    On the subject of marriage, and choices, and divorce, and marriage, you might enjoy a little tome by Elizabeth Gilbert, (author of Eat, Pray, Love) called Committed. Just finished it myself and oh I wish I’d read THAT before waltzing my 24 year old ass down the aisle. Of course, Committed wasn’t written two decades ago, so, I wish in vain. Not for the first time. But I digress.

    On the subject of our culture’s abundance campaign wherein which prosperity coaches and the like are hocking their wares as energetically as ever the best snake oil salesmen wriggled their way into the psyches of their day, well, you and I have had that conversation, haven’t we? I’ve done my own rounds of Personal Development lurnin, and bought into my fair share of snake oil. I have this friend, (we’ve chatted on this too) who is currently barreling down the highway greased on by the snake oil du jour with so much gosh darned entrepreneurial abundance and Amazing Results … I can hardly bare to watch it anymore. I’m actually thinking of defriending her, so distasteful do I find this incarnation of the Go Big or Go Home mantra indoctrinated in our little courses. She’s the Next Big Thing in childrearing … and she has no children. But I digress.

    I agree with you: we’re depressed in statistically alarming numbers because we’ve been sold an unsustainable bill of goods that is so effervescing with rhetoric and so blatantly lacking in connection with what we actually need that we, (collectively, as a western culture) wouldn’t know our ass from a seed hole in the ground. Which is what we actually need: food … and none of us, or statistically insignificant numbers of us, would have a clue how to generate for ourselves if armageddon reared down and rendered grocery stores and supply chains obsolete. We’re so busy wanting a quad for our four year olds we’re not stopping to wonder if our little plot of real estate could be tilled to provide sufficient food stores to fill our own guts for a year. Nevermind grow enough wood to heat our homes when peak oil realities hit. But I digress.

    I do love Col. William Ludlow’s line in Legends of The Fall when, after a stroke, and speaking mumbly out of the one good side of his mouth, he encourages Tristan to defy the good government gentlemen come to make good on a prohibition charge, “Screw’em!”

    I use that line a lot.

    • Craig says:

      Thank you, Cindy. I have enjoyed our conversations, and value the comments you make on my blog. Currently, I’m kind of in-between all the different points of view. I appreciate the work that Jay Fiset and some other mutual friends are doing, getting people out of a victim mindset and believing in their own ability to do something with their lives. But we also need that “hey wait a sec” voice that questions where people go with it. A thousand years ago, that role was filled by the Court Jester. The king kept him around to make him consider what he was doing, and not rush in where fools fear to tread.

      I see a lot of good and harm coming out of the self-help industry. Hopefully more good than harm. I guess you could say the same for religion, although many disagree that religion has any good whatsoever. We have to stop and ask ourselves where our utopian dreams are taking us – utopia, or self-destruction?

      I’m all for backyard gardening! We need more self-sufficiency, but I don’t think it will really catch on until people simply can’t afford to go grocery shopping any more.

      We’ll talk again soon.

  2. Rhoda says:

    This reminds me of Paul who said: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 TNIV)
    A fews years ago a friend of mine told me how he was once stranded by a broken down vehicle with no visible help in sight. He began to pray for a miracle – that his car would work at least enough to get him to his destination. But as he prayed he realized that a greater, more profound miracle would be for God to change his heart and mind – that he could be content with his situation and trust God no matter what happened.
    I’m also reminded of C.S. Lewis who said: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.”
    And I think there should be 10 blades on every razor! 😉

    • Craig says:

      Thanks, Rhoda. It seems our culture has gotten so wrapped up in the specifics of the stuff we want, that we’ve forgotten how important our thoughts and feelings are. Do I want a vacation, or a feeling of restfulness? Do I want caffeine, or a feeling of clarity and energy? It seems that focusing on the materials has gotten us the opposite of what we want. Looking for success, we may get success but have a feeling of failure, and looking for love, we find a feeling of loneliness and dissatisfaction. Sometimes we need to stop, connect with each other and connect with God.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  3. nora martin says:

    I just have to say “amen” to all you said above. One’s feeling of contentment (or otherwise) depends a lot on what one is comparing one’s situation to. If I compare myself to some gorgeous, “successful”, wonder-woman, I’ll likely feel pretty awful. On the other hand, if I compare myself with someone who has just lost her home and job and husband, I realize that I don’t actually have much to complain about.

    One thing that I think a lot of people would find helpful is to stop watching TV (and all the other sources of ads which abound in our world). Ads are designed to make you discontented.


    • Craig says:

      Maybe the Old Order Mennonites are right after all? Personally, I get enough dissatisfaction from my internet connection. I do not watch TV. It baffles my cable provider – they can see I have internet, but no TV. They call me once a month to ask why. Those conversations remind me of Huxley’s Brave New World.

      • nora says:

        We have the same problem! People find it hard to understand that we don’t watch TV. I prefer to be a bit more in control of what garbage I put into my mind.

        I think what the Old Order Mennonites have got right is that we should be more conscious about the decisions we make, rather than just going along with whatever is happening in society. I do not agree with the decisions they make (at least not for me), but I respect the fact that they make them, rather than just letting things happen.

        And I think most of them are considerably more contented than many of the people I relate to every day who have a lot more material goods of the modern sort.


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