Simplicity and the Paradox of Choice

Written by Carl Greene

June 22, 2022

The paradox of choice.[1] When we have so many options available to us, it feels like we should be able to make the ideal decision. That is a lot of pressure—we feel like we should get every choice right because if we are unhappy, it is only our own fault. At least, that is how we often feel.

Say I go to the grocery store to get some yogurt. Ah, the culinary bliss of milk that has undergone a controlled rot. Yet, I arrive at the dairy case and realize that there is standard, Greek, Icelandic, Scandinavian, and apparently endless types of yogurt. Then, I notice that there is yogurt from cow’s milk, from goat’s milk, from cashew (milk?) and the list goes on. I have not even started in on the flavors.

When I face so many selections, I at first feel empowered. What a great opportunity to get just what I want. Then, I sacrifice a whole bunch of time searching out just the right yogurt. Worse yet, I am unlikely to be fully pleased because if my first taste is not heavenly, I will realize that I could have made a better choice. I failed.

The paradox of choice has lots of applications, but I think we should still go to the grocery store. The key is, that we keep our choices in perspective. In his timeless classic, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster speaks of living a life of simplicity. Amidst lots of practical advice, he lands on a central truth: “. . . shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God. It is so easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things. Job, position, status, family, friends, security—these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention.”[2]

We have tons of choices—from what to buy to what to like to what to wear to what to eat to where to worship to what we watch . . . you get the idea. Rather than putting all the pressure on making ourselves happy with making just the right choice, we can live a whole lot simpler. We choose what does not distract from the Kingdom of God. That sounds much easier.

As we think about choices—let me offer access to a “simple list.” This link takes you to livestreams and recorded services of a variety of SDB churches. No pressure on which one to choose. SDB Church Livestream and Recorded Services

[1] Schwartz, Barry. 2016. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, revised edition. New York: Harper Collins.

[2] Foster, Richard. 1988. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Revised Edition. San Francisco: Harper Collins.

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