Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Every day, we are faced with many choices. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the work we do, the people we love… Whether you are at work, school or home, choice is an unavoidable part of life. In fact, we put a great deal of importance in choice, stating that it is a fundamental right of a free individual to make their own choice.

So what happens when this right is taken away from us? A common reaction to this is anger and revolt. People whose freedom are taken away by a dictator will throw a revolution to choose who they want as a leader. Children throw tantrums to show that they do not want their parents to decide things in their stead. There are cases of death row inmates attempting to take their own lives because “ending my life is the one choice I have the right to”.

We like to think we are free individuals, making our own decisions in life. We mock others for being sheeple – choosing to not choose by following the mainstream decision or preference. But choice is often an illusion.
Consider how many of “your decisions” are truly from your own heart. Are you drinking Coke over Pepsi because you really appreciate the taste difference, or because of effective marketing? Are you listening to that song because you enjoy the melody, or because it is at the top of the charts and everyone is listening to it? Are you eating that menu because you were attracted to what the ingredients are, or because the waiter recommended it as “the special of the day”? You would be surprised how little choice you have sometimes, no matter how free you think you may be.

But choice has an ugly, darker side. Making a choice is often difficult, mentally taxing us as we make an internal pros and cons list to try sort things in order and determine “the best choice”. There are countless research showing that the more choice that is available to you, the harder it becomes for you to choose and the more distressed you become. It could be severe to the point that you get analysis paralysis, where you spend so long making a decision that you miss out or never take an action. Not only that, but making a choice puts the responsibility on you. For example, although medicine is moving towards a patient-oriented system where the patient makes an informed choice, the patient may feel burdened with guilt if their choice results in a poor outcome. This applies to every choice we make from day to day in the form of regret. Regret is the sinister monster that makes us think “What if?”. What if we chose differently? Regret leads to blame and blame leads to sorrow and anger at yourself.

This is the paradox of choice. It feels good to be able to express your uniqueness through choice, but at the same time, the freedom of choice can cause pain and distress just as easily. If your choice goes against the group decision, it can make you stand out and cause you to be shunned. This is why so many of us “choose to not choose” and give up our right of choice. Being social animals, we have a tendency of following groupthink while ironically shouting for the importance of free will. To fight this natural tendency and making a choice reflecting your own thoughts, beliefs and identity is a brave thing to do.

However, that is not to say that surrendering your choice is always a bad thing. A couple who met through arranged marriage may have a happier relationship than those who met through romance. People who’ve grown up in communist countries say that “it was easier when we didn’t have to choose everything”. Most importantly, reflect on your childhood where so many of your parents’ decisions – no matter how oppressive they seemed then – turned out to be the right call.

So in the end, the most important choice you can make is this: do you choose to surrender your choice or do you choose free will? Choose whatever makes you happy, because there is no point choosing something and regretting it because you are unhappy.

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