Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Than Six Choices? Don't Ask Me . . .

Recently, I saw an amazing lecture about the downside of having a lot of choices. It was absolutely riveting. A lot of studies have showed that people like having lots of choices. But they were flawed studies, because they just assumed that because people liked three choices better than two choices, that it would always be preferable to add more choices. But this is wrong. It turns out that there is a point (and it's a pretty low number) where the choices are actually changing the quality of life for the worse.

Worse for a number of reasons, but the most interesting one is this: you aren't satisfied with any choice you make, because, with all those choices, you must have missed the best choice. Even in corporations, the more choices the corporation offers for retirements plans, the lower the participation in the plans! People are defeated before they even start, because they can't decide. They actually give up the free money because they can't decide. This holds true for making decisions about telephones, computers, blue jeans, entrees on a menu, and automobiles.

If we can hand over choice to someone else, even someone who doesn't know any more than we do, we are happier. Ask any wife. My own husband tells me that sometimes choosing among many options is physically painful to him! He shops for groceries; I buy everything else. Since there are 275 choices for salad dressing, I'm not sure he got the best end of that deal.

Right now, for instance, I have the luxury of some rare free time. But I am not sure whether to do my needlework, read, look at hulu, check my facebook page, study search engine optimization, check Twitter (in case John Lithgow sent me another twitter), or photograph some of my items for my shop on 1000 Markets ( So what am I doing instead? Writing about my inability to choose.

And now I thought of something funny that David Letterman did years ago. He went to a shop named Just Bulbs and kept asking for other kinds of things, until the old lady in the shop was ready to kill him. "Just light bulbs," she was yelling. "Just like the sign says, JUST BULBS." I think I will make it my mantra.

Just bulbs.

My So-Called Relatives

This is my downstairs bathroom wall. Every day I look at these people, imagining their lives, their thoughts at the moment of the photographer's click. Ironically, while I have several other pictures of ancestors on the walls in there, these two aren't even related to me.

The man came with the beautifully carved tramp art frame, all the way from Australia. I have named him Henry. I picture him as a man with a successful business, possibly an enterprise involving the making of fine woolens, or somesuch.

Penelope, there in front of the hotel, is having a much-deserved holiday. Her life isn't clear to me, but she does have a beau. They are very much in love, but there are some issues that need to be resolved in order for her family to be accepting of the match. This clandestine rendezvous is by far the most daring thing she has ever done.

I wonder who they really were. I can't help but wonder what they would have thought to know that they'd be images for a stranger's imagination. At the very instant the shutter clicked, the world I inhabit would have been unimaginable to either of them.

Their presence pleases me. In my own way, I honor them. It's not crazy, is it?