Why Less Freedom Makes Us Happy And Too Much Makes Us Miserable

by Dean Yeong

One of the biggest dogmas is this: If we want to maximize our happiness, the best way to achieve it is to maximize our freedom.

That is because freedom is something valuable, worthwhile and essential to every single one of us. It sounds logical.

When we have freedom we can use it to do things that maximize our happiness, we don't take orders from anyone and no one makes decisions on behalf of us. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.

Most people want to make more money not because they want the cold hard cash, but because with money comes freedom in life.

The more choices we have, the more freedom we have. The more freedom we have, the happier we are. No one ever questions this.

The top goals most people have today aren't job security, stable relationships or happy families. Most people want to have more freedom to choose how they spend their lives on their own terms.

Indeed, we're bombarded by endless choices today: There are more than hundred degree programs to choose from at any given university, our smartphones come with billions of apps to download and we even have numerous different salad dressings to choose from at the supermarket. We have choices.

All of them should make us happier; this belief is heavily and deeply embedded into our everyday life.

But does more choice really lead to more happiness? Below are three ways in which freedom doesn't necessarily make us happier.

1. The Negative Side Of More Freedom

I'm not suggesting that more choices and freedom are bad for us. There's no argument on how choice changes our world positively, and we all knew how more freedom brings us more happiness. But too many choices can produce procrastination and paralysis.

Imagine if Apple launched 100 different phone models in a year. The sales would drop because people would have too many options to choose from. The problem isn't the iPhone's quality, it's the hassle customers need to go through to make the "right" choice.

The more choice, the harder for us to choose, and inevitably, people would give up on making the decision and wouldn't buy the phone at all.

Also remember that the opportunity cost leads to comparison and dissatisfaction.

Let's say you have five oranges to choose from and one of them is the best orange you'll ever have. This is the only chance to have that orange and if you miss it you'll never be able to get your hands on it again. How does that make you feel?

More choice produces higher expectation to each and every option you have.

We know the world's tastiest orange is one out of the five, but our brain will assume all the five are the tastiest. Even if we don't think so, rationally and logically, we assume we'll pick the tastiest one and we can't accept anything less than that.

But even if you're incredibly lucky to pick the best, you might think it's not perfect, because you can never know what the other four oranges tasted like.

The opportunity cost of the other oranges leads to dissatisfaction in us. This happens in many different areas of our lives.

2. Eliminate Options and Choices

The more choice we have, the higher our expectation is for every choice. The higher the expectation, the harder for us to choose. After we make a decision, we compare our choice with the other alternatives and assume what we have is somehow less attractive, even if our choice is the best one we can make.

The solution to this problem is clear; we need to break the dogma we believe in so much. More choice does lead to more happiness but only up to a certain point.

We should trim down the choices we have by focusing on only the most important things.

A few examples you can implement to your daily life are: Focusing only on one business idea or career goal, removing productivity apps from your smartphone, being content with what and who you already have with you and setting only one fitness goal.

If you've made a choice before -- on your career, relationship or finances -- focus on the choice you already made. Stop comparing your decision with other alternatives and make the best of what you have.

3. The Fish and The Aquarium

We are like fish in an aquarium. The size of the aquarium dictates the freedom we have, and some of us see it as our constraints. To grow, we need a bigger aquarium. Unfortunately, what most people are trying to do is break the aquarium. But without it, you're a dead fish.

With the advancement of technology today, we're open to limitless choices. Thus, we want to believe that we could have limitless freedom so we can be happier.

But limitless freedom is never a good thing. Yes, we do need some freedom to expand and grow, but without constraints, we'd have no direction, no standard, no plan and certainly no happiness.

This article was originally posted on the author's blog.