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Choice – Striving towards prosperity or striding towards excess?

What if having more actually meant enjoying less? Welcome to the age of ‘Affluenza’ or gluttony, this disease is marked by patients doggedly pursuing more, more and more leading to symptoms such as excessiveness, anxiety and waste (not to mention debt)….

Though ‘Affluenza’ is a supposed condition (coined by Hamilton & Denniss in a book on consumerism) it can kill its victims – wondering how? Think obesity, debt-induced depressions and stress-induced heart attacks, not to mention addictions. So for a disease that could ultimately end in fatality it is surprising the little attention it gets and why should it? With entire economies depending on its infected to keep them afloat its no surprise that the mighty do little to encourage prudence in the masses.

What drives this strange new disease that is taking hold of our society? (Among other things) Choice; too much of it – and I will explain…

(This example fits almost all scenarios involving options and choice) – What happens when people are offered a chocolate from a selection in a box? Most people scan the box of chocolates, mesmerized by all that choice – they look for that one chocolate which might taste fabulous, you pick it up hoping for a mind-blowing portmanteau of cacao, sugar and butter (add nuts if you like). You pop it in your mouth and evaluate, concluding it wasn’t the miracle you expected you chastise yourself for ‘missing the opportunity’ and not choosing better a.k.a the other piece of chocolate that is peacefully sitting in the box minding its business. In ‘fact’ having tasted the first chocolate you are (now) convinced this new praline sitting there will taste ecstatic. Eventually, overwhelmed by curiosity, conviction or the need to make the ‘right’ choice you reach for the praline, for that ‘one’ chocolate that tastes better… and so the story goes.

So, in this case, it’s fair to say life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you get and then trying to redeem missed opportunities, you want more and end up being excessive/overindulgent.  How much do you enjoy your chocolates if you spend time second-guessing your choices, catching up with missed opportunities and eyeing other pralines in the box? Besides, second-guessing your chocolaty choices and trying to catch up on missed chocolaty opportunities means your box of chocolate ends sooner (as you take more from it) than everyone else’s doesn’t it?

Could it be that we (fuelled by a culture where instant gratification and overindulgence is enthusiastically marketed) get entranced by the titillation of possibility rather than the utility of options we have? Could it be that too much choice is too much of a good thing and this age of unusual abundance razzle dazzles us by presenting a lot of exciting options and distracts us from making meaningful choices? And if yes then what can you do to resist? What can you do to manage your ‘box of chocolates’ better? Perhaps simplify things, define what flavours/types of chocolates are your favourite because narrowing down your preferences automatically increases the probability of making the right choice.

That said, choice isn’t a bad thing, neither is it wrong to strive to make life better – what I am asking is when does one cross the line? When does striving towards prosperity become striding towards excess? When does wanting more avalanche into overindulgence? And what are you doing to get yourself back from it – the excess I mean? Perhaps these questions are best left as food for (rather excessive) thought.

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