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Healthy Living

Can Too Many Choices Give Millennials Anxiety?

I had what appeared to be a simple shopping list until I got to the ketchup aisle. Did you know there are 37 kinds of ketchup?
How many choices do we need?
How many choices do we need?

Since starting my intergenerational consulting firm, I have more choices on how I spend my time. Getting away from endless meetings and triple-digit numbers of daily emails from my past corporate position has given me some flexibility and less anxiety. Now I can take over some of the household errands that my beautiful and super organized wife has handled like a field general.

Last night I was watching my favorite game show, Family Feud. “100 married women were asked: Name something that has to be done that you hate to do.” Grocery shopping was on this list. I can help with that!

So I thought.

I had what appeared to be a simple shopping list until I got to the ketchup aisle. Did you know there are 37 kinds of ketchup? And how is it possible that there are hundreds of potato chip brands and flavors, a whole freakin’ aisle of chips. Original, baked, crispy, crunchy, all-natural, ridges, fat-free? My list just said “Jalapeno chips.” There were seven brands! Anxiety sets in. What if I get the wrong kind and my family scowls with disgust? I can’t even complete the simple task of grocery shopping. LOOOOOSER!

“My list just said 'Jalapeno chips.' There were seven brands! Anxiety sets in. What if I get the wrong kind and my family scowls with disgust?”

I am convinced that we have way too many choices on everything, and it’s out of control. Did you know Amazon sells 119,265 kinds of toilet brushes? Look it up.

There used to be three TV stations. The news was at 6:30 and the cartoons came on Saturday morning. Now we have over 650 channels with 24/7 news and cartoons if we choose. I went to a fast food establishment yesterday and simply wanted a Coke, but their new touchscreen soda machine now has 146 different Coca-Cola flavors! STOP IT!

Could this be one of the contributing factors to why some are calling millennials the anxious generation? Numerous studies have shown that millennials experience anxiety at a higher rate than any past generation. I look at my millennial son and ask myself: What the hell does he have to be anxious about? We have done everything in our power as parents to remove every obstacle and give him tons of “choices.” Could that be one of the problems? Psychiatrists are saying yes.

“I went to a fast food establishment yesterday and simply wanted a Coke, but their new touchscreen soda machine now has 146 different Coca-Cola flavors! STOP IT!”

Caroline Beaton, in Psychology Today, says an abundance of choice is stressing young people out big time. Millennials regularly suffer from “FOMO” ― Fear of Missing Out. Choice raises the fear. What if there is a better price? What if another movie is better? What if I don’t like it when it gets here? What if she doesn’t look like she does on her Tinder profile? And so on and so on.

Having tons of choices can affect your happiness as well. More options equal more decision-making time needed to evaluate all the choices. Researcher Barry Schwartz calls this “choice overload.”

“As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase,” writes Schwartz. “The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.” With this comes anxiety and a reduction in happiness.

“Having tons of choices can affect your happiness as well. More options equal more decision-making time needed to evaluate all the choices.”

Research also shows too many options can reduce purchases. In a 2001 study, shoppers at an upscale market saw a display with 24 varieties of jam. Those who sampled the jam were rewarded with a coupon for $1 off any jam. The next day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. Retailers are taking note. International grocer Tesco recently decided to eliminate 30,000 of the 90,000 products from their store shelves.

Stores in the U.S. seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Why? So they can give us, even more, choices. STOP IT! Imagine the savings in square footage. Maybe Super Walmart can be a little less super, and they can take the saved space and build a park. Less space, less choice, less anxiety. There can even be a hotdog stand in the park. I’ll take a hotdog with just plain ketchup and mustard, please.