The Choices We Make

Life is all about choices. And the ones we make, and the ones we don’t define who we are, and define our lives.
Choice itself has many interpretations and applications – from basic choices we make in our daily lives, to choice as an expression of free will, and a million things in between.

Choice is good, and choice is bad, depending on who you are, and on what you apply your choices. And the impact of choice itself depends upon the degrees with which you apply it.

Then there are informed choices and there are misplaced ones. Choices based on articulated life goals and beliefs are a very powerful thing, but Choices driven by hollow ‘freedom to choose whatever one wants’, or worse, out of rebellion, is sure-pure destructive in the long run, as much as it may seem to be ‘the brilliant light of hope and success’ in in the eyes of the beholder.

I am currently reading a fascinating book called The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar, and would like to share some interesting, thought-provoking passages from it – starting with the first essential of Choice – a goal. Because this seems to be the biggest stumbling block in society today, when it comes to making choices. What are we making them for? What’s the end to which Choice is a means?

“So we return to this question: If we don’t even know our own minds, how do we figure out what will make us happy? We can temper the automatic system with the reflective system, and vice versa, but we still make mistakes. Perhaps, instead of looking for answers only within ourselves, we should examine what others have done in similar situations.”

The irony about making “My Choice”, is that it often forces people to make a choice different from what others have made. Because very often accepting “another’s choice” is seen as conforming, as in the opposite of making your own choice, hence the need to be/state/do it differently, in order to express your “own choice”, albeit without clarity of the reality.

Professor Daniel Gilbert, an expert on happiness research, writes in his book Stumbling Upon Happiness

“What’s so ironic about this predicament is that the information we need to make accurate predictions of our emotional futures is right under our noses, but we don’t seem to recognize its aroma”. We tend to think that the experiences of others are mostly irrelevant because our circumstances and our personalities have no equivalents. “[We] think of ourselves as unique entities – minds unlike any others, and thus we often reject the lessons that the emotional experience of others has to teach us.”

“We tend to have a knee-jerk negative response to anything that seems to want or have control over us. We worry that if we give up any control, we may eventually become nothing more than robots. Our anxiety is not always unwarranted, but too much of it is counterproductive. The problem may lie in the fact that we tend to put choice on a pedestal, so much so that we expect to be able to bend everything to our will. We would serve ourselves better by separating the influences that conflict with our values from the influences that are basically harmless. We can then consciously examine our reasoning process to combat some of the covert effects of the negative influences…

…by focusing on things that really matter, we avoid running ourselves ragged over decisions that are simply not important in the long run.”

Now the truth is, given emancipation of society (regardless of education and responsibility levels), and emergence of empowered individuality (irrespective of whether or not the individuality is well thought out or intentioned), the world and our lives have today become an incredible, dazzling, “supermarket of choices” where you can walk down any aisle of life, and be faced with rows and rows of choices. From the love section, to the friends and family department, to the work and professional aisle – the choices go beyond the wildest Starbucks customisation fantasy.

In the book, Iyengar points us to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French thinker who keenly chronicled American society, and described as follows, the consequences of ever-increasing choice, starting 170 years ago:

“In America I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world; yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow, and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasures… They clutch onto everything, but hold nothing fast, and so lose their grip as they hurry after some new delight.”

At the end of the day, I am a huge fan of Choice. And the ability to choose ones friends, work, relationships and the nature of it all. The point is, Choice, like a loaded gun, is a potent weapon. Wield  it well, and it will protect you for life, fool around with it, and you could end up shooting yourself in the foot!

“Choosing helps us create our lives. We make choices, and are in turn made by them. Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art. To gain most from it, we must embrace uncertainty and contradiction. It does not look the same to all our eyes, nor can everyone agree on its purpose. Sometimes choice pulls us to itself, other times it repels us. We use it without exhausting it, and the more we uncover, the more we find still hidden. We cannot take full measure of it. Therein lies its power, its mystery, and its singular beauty”

  • I wont say that choosing ‘helps’ us create our lives….I’d say it actually CREATES our life! Its not a mere assisting tool….its what decides your fate!

    How many times have we heard people say…”Ohhh this is fate/my kismet!…this was meant to happen!” . That’s just a way of throwing the blame on someone/something else and not accepting responsibility for your actions.

    Philosophically speaking, in life, I have always believed that in ANY situation, we are faced with 2 choices. Life over and over again brings you to a fork where you must go either this way or that. Whatever path u choose, your life flows in that direction with respective consequences. If it’s good, we applaud ourselves…and if its turns out for the worse, then we blame fate! Everything in our life, be it our choice of career, life-partner & marriage, relationships, friends, even enemies! Our appearance, hobbies
    ….actually ANYTHING….well almost anything! (How many times have we heard we can choose anything except the family we are born into) is the outcome our choices. They say that even diseases are mere manifestations of our thoughts and subconscious which culminate from bad choices that we have made in life.

    About making the right choice, is however our choice. Do you want to decide with your head or your heart? What is good and what is bad, is however left to our discretion. So what we decide in a given situation is what leads to the action that takes place as a result of that choice.

    In hindsight, I have to admit, I have made many good and bad choices in life…. Be it the choice of career, friends (how many of us can say we have been stabbed in the back by someone we trusted so much in life?) and so many other things in my day-to-day life. Who is responsible for what I am today? ME! I take sole responsibility for everything I am today. Everytime, I had a choice. Friends in school, peers in college, Commerce or Arts? This car or that? Study here or abroad? Marry this man or someone else? Have a baby now or later? Have a baby at all?? Some choices turned out great….while some were bummers!

    Accepting yourself as you are and having the confidence in yourself will give you the ability to make the right choices in life. Make your choice with faith and confidence in yourself, and sit back and enjoy the course it takes!

  • Anahita

    Most of us won’t admit it but we all make terrible choices, which also leads us to make even more terrible choices because we never stopped to consider whether we are right or wrong in what we choose. So we carry on with the illusion that we know exactly what we are doing.

    As a woman I know I have to make many tough choices, and very often I don’t have the luxury to question them. If I do I fear I may either chicken out or alternately miss the boat of life.

    Questioning them apart, most of the time you never know the implications of your choices until its too late.

    Thanks for the great read and introspection.

  • Abhinay Saxena

    We must never regret our choices and also not blame others for what we choose. So we need to think a lot before making our choices. Better to look before leap.

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