The paradox of choices

Man choosing between doors symbolizing choices and opportunities
Photo: © Michael Brown / 123RF Stock Photo

A world without choices

Imagine if you lived in a time and place where freedom was non-existent, restrictions prevailed and there was a universal pattern to fulfilment of food, shelter, healthcare, leisure and socialization needs. Then you would have to eat what was offered, wear specified common attire (uniform), study what was told to you, perform explicitly allocated tasks, pursue the sport or hobby allotted; and meet only those you were permitted to. That really appears to be the description of a jail where one has no choice. When we don’t have a choice, life almost seems unbearable. When we have the freedom to choose, we feel independent, powerful, in control, and in a way, liberated. It is impossible for us to imagine being in a situation where our autonomy was challenged and we didn’t have a choice.

Do we need choices?

That’s right, we don’t just want choices; we feel that we need them. The moment we have a choice, we feel free, determined and proactive. Our society values autonomy and we have internalized it such that in the absence of that independence we feel caged. When there’s cereal for breakfast we want eggs and when the eggs are fried we want them boiled. If we are told to attend a family dinner we want to go out with friends, but when we are out with friends at an Indian restaurant we feel we would rather have eaten Chinese or watched a movie. And yet again when we watch an English movie we feel we should have selected the latest Bollywood one. Dad wants us to pursue engineering and Mum says it’s nice to be a doctor. And we think we want to earn a living flying an aircraft. And our recent aptitude result shows that we would make a good architect! How much good do you think the freedom is doing for you?

In the 70’s and 80’s the principal entertainment in India was a Doordarshan channel that screened a movie every Sunday and the entire family gathered in front of the 24-inch TV set to watch it. Today, there’s the option of selecting from 1000s of shows, movies, serials, and videos on a multitude of gadgets, all on demand. How easy has life become with all these choices?

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Dr Shefali Batra is a Psychiatrist and Mindfulness Coach. Connect with her on Instagram @drshefalibatra and read more about her work at

Dr Shefali Batra

Dr Shefali Batra is a Psychiatrist and Mindfulness Coach. Connect with her on Instagram @drshefalibatra and read more about her work at