Does choice make us happy? In many ways, yes. But so does the lack of choice.
Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, gave the unsuspecting people in his experiments two different kinds of choices. Some of them were offered a choice that they could undo. The others were given a choice that they had to live with.
The ones with the do-over option continued to ponder the upside and downside of their decision. But the people who had to suck it up seemed to be better off.
“They tended to concentrate on the good features and ignore the bad,” Gilbert said. “As such, they were more satisfied when they made irrevocable than revocable decisions.”
If that rubs you the wrong way, you’re not alone. Gilbert found that just about everybody really, really wanted to have the chance to change their minds.
Gilbert took his findings to heart.
“Up until this point I had always believed that love causes marriage,” he wrote. “But these experiments suggested to me that marriage could also cause love.
If you take data seriously you act on it, so when these results came in I went home and proposed to the woman I was living with. She said yes, and it turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend.”
So I ask you again, does choice make you happy?
(By the way, this reminds me of something that hit me when I returned to the U.S. after a year in Eastern Europe. That will wait for my next installment, two weeks from now. I could have written about it now, but I thought it would be better to wait. Hope that was the right thing to do.)