Choice Overload: Why Are We Not Happy Despite So Many Choices in our Lives?

The Ugly Truth Behind Choice Overload and How Buying Sustainable Can Help Us Live Happy

By Sonia Ahmed

An Introduction to Choice Overload

Choices may make us feel empowered, but the sheer abundance of options has become a big pain in the neck for ordinary buyers. In this blog, we’ll talk about how limiting ourselves to sustainable products can make us happier and more satisfied with the products we buy and the things we own.

We agree; to be able to CHOOSE is everyone’s fundamental right.

In fact, studies conducted by Mark Lepper of Stanford and Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University concluded, “we feel happier when presented with a larger array of options.”

However, what’s interesting is that today we have more choices than ever before and yet we’re not getting any happier! The national anxiety score climbed 5 points between 2017 and 2018 with 4 in every 10 persons more dissatisfied and anxious than before.

Don’t you feel a small ball of anxiety building up your throat as soon as its time to go buy some mundane everyday article or order food from a restaurant menu of 10 pages!

That’s why David Myers seems quite right to note that “abundance of choices often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness.”

But, the relation of choices with our happiness is not that simple…

Complex Relation of Choices And Our Happiness

What most consumers suffer today is choice overload — often paralyzing the confused buyer from making any decision or feel happy about the purchase.

Some decades ago, there were only a few brands dominating each facet of the industry and decision making was easy. But mankind is never satisfied with limited choices, isn’t it?

The need for alternatives, though, was more than a psychological need!

You see, the retail market thrives on consumer anxiety. It manipulates the human desire to find the most value and the best product for their needs.

More choices meant more anxiety; and for some time, it meant more sales. However, the plethora of not-so-unique options today is proving counterproductive.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues in his book The Paradox of Choice; Why More is Less, “eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce shoppers’ anxiety.”

Though it may seem counterintuitive, studies like the one conducted by Professor Iyenger of Columbia University, clearly shows that it’s true. In 2000, Professor Iyenger and her researchers set up a jam stand. They alternatively offered their customers two jam assortments — one with 24 different jam types and one with only six.

Surprisingly, while the 24-jam assortment attracted the most customers, more people bought from the six-jam assortment instead.

This shows that fewer choices help people make up their minds and take action. Today buyers are more anxious than ever and this anxiety is likely to increase. For purchasing every little thing, selection has become a daunting task. Buyers are stuck in a choice paradox, and it’s sucking them into a vortex.

The fine line of the consumer-anxiety threshold is under critical overload, more than ever before. Low quality, huge markups, greedy companies — throw it all into the mix, and you get a highly unsatisfied, skeptical consumer base, feeling gravely violated.

Results of Choice Overload And What We Can Do About It

Choice overload affects different people in different ways. It affects you in one of the three different ways:

Unsatisfied Buyers

Whether you take a lot of time making a choice or do it instantly, you almost always feel dissatisfied. The deals you leave always feel better than the ones you get.


Discontentment often leads to overconsumption and you end up buying more than what you require. You discard your products after a little while for the next shiny thing on the market even though they’re still working perfectly.

Choice paralysis

You might feel so overwhelmed by all the choices and inability to ascertain their value, it leads you to choice paralysis. So, you end up not being able to decide at all.

However, more choices are not the only culprit. In fact, options are good but there’s a fine line between too many and too few.

We believe transparency of information and a clear difference between various options is the key to better decisions and improved buyers’ satisfaction. Because, even with limited choices, you cannot feel satisfied and may risk buying the wrong product if you don’t know enough about them.

If each option has a unique feature to differentiate it from all the other options, it enables buyers’ to make the right decision and feel good about it.

Ethical choices, like secondhand stores, might help alleviate choice overload.
Photo: Edinburgh Remakery, by Jenni Flett
Ethical choices, like secondhand stores, might help alleviate choice overload.
Photo: Edinburgh Remakery, by Jenni Flett

How do sustainable and ethical products help relieve consumer anxiety?

In today’s market, there’s a lot of competition for catching the consumers’ fleeting attention. However, there can only be so many unique products and ideas.

So, what do most companies do?

They churn out the same old products with fancy new names on the labels. Research reveals that choice overload is most debilitating when the multiple options are only slightly different from one another. 

With the retail market vomiting brand after brand, there’s too much data to process for an average Joe like you and us who are only looking for a fracking toothpaste or a ballpoint.

The solution to choice overload lies not only into limiting the choices but also by giving the consumer more information about the product.

But, how do we, the average buyers, do any of this?

The answer is simple: By limiting ourselves to green, ethical, and sustainable products. 

Imagine walking into a store and having to explore only a small subset of choices, the ones you can buy with a clear conscience!

Sustainable and ethical brands ease your decision process and increase your happiness in four ways:

Limiting the Choices

Although the sales of sustainable products increased a whopping 50% from 2013 to 2018, according to the Center for Sustainable Business they make only 17% of the market. Thus, by going green, we automatically eliminate the bigger chunk of options out there.

Of all the kinds of toothpaste or mattresses out there, how many come from sustainable sources — what do you think 😉

Simplifying the Complexity of Choice

Truly sustainable and ethical companies are pretty transparent about their raw material sources, supply chains, and production processes. Moreover, they get certifications from reputable governing bodies such as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance.

Transparency of information allows you to easily and quickly figure out which brand aligns with your beliefs the best.

Helping in Setting Preferences

Whether you have 5 options or 50, not knowing what you want is always going to waste your time and cause you misery.

When you limit yourself to a subset of products, your research is guided toward gathering more information, comparing and identifying unique features, and making an informed choice with full confidence.

Boosting Inner Peace

Consumers today are more aware of the impact of their choices on others and the environment. Sustainable businesses lead you out of the choice paradox and help you achieve decision satisfaction.

That’s because you know the product you bought went through an eco-friendly manufacturing process, the people who made them were not harmed but uplifted, and the end product is good for your health and the environment.

The transparency of sustainable brands empowers you by helping you make an informed choice. When you know your hard-earned money gets you a good product without any harm to others, it leads to buyer’s satisfaction and an elevated sense of happiness.

So, you don’t need to get caught up in the sheer abundance of low-quality, environment damaging products. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle not only fulfills your needs but also gives you REAL value in life.

It’s an era of knowledge and opportunities, but the need of the hour is to be RESPONSIBLE. With the easy availability of sustainable products, what excuse do we have for our eco-damaging ways of life?