Do more choices mean more stress?

When people are beset by choices, by the constant pressure to organise the chaos, it can complicate their lives, says an expert

By Jumana KhamisStaff Reporter
07:00 October 8, 2017
NAT_170920 Dr Tara SR_JK1

Dubai: For many people, happiness is often associated to material things such as money, cars, stylish clothing, a big house, and getting the perfect body. For those pursuing materialism, all the shopping and endless options of brands and leisure activities may just be an underlying issue of unresolved stresses in their lives.

Dr Tara Wyne, Clinical Psychologist and director at Lighthouse Arabia, Dubai explained that by owning too much stuff and clutter, people are “beset by choices, by unnecessary decisions, even by the constant pressure to organise the chaos,” creating more stress for them than happiness.



“Overconsumption suggests consuming more than is necessary — this state is typically a mindless state where we aren’t connected to what our real needs are, but simply filling ourselves and our lives up with activities or things to achieve some kind of happiness,” she said.

The problem arises, when the result of overconsuming to keep busy and fill a certain void, doesn’t achieve the feeling or state in mind- happiness- and instead ends in agitation.

“If we don’t have any insight into what truly makes us happy, we will continue chasing material things and experiences. We will need more and more to achieve any kind of satisfaction. This is a stressful, discontented state,” said Dr Wyne.

Are we really happy?

She pointed out that wanting to have material objects of beauty or utility isn’t a problem unless we are trying to meet emotional needs with them.

Research shows that civilisation is at a point where people are the richest they have been in history, and have the best health and human rights that has ever been enjoyed throughout time. However, despite all the advancement, people are actually unhappier than they were 50 years ago.

“In a research conducted by Professor Felicity Huppert and Timothy So from the University of Cambridge on wellbeing across 23 European countries, they found that GDP, i.e. financial performance and stability of countries, didn’t dictate the level of wellbeing in the population,” explained Dr Wyne.

People in the flourishing countries reported less material reasons and more eudaimonic reasons, such as as values and practices involving taking care of others, as reasons for their happiness.

In moral philosophy, eudaimonia is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual.

“Unfortunately, most of the planet is still under the impression that material things and wealth will make them happy. The problem is that these things can bring temporary highs which don’t last. We keep needing more to create the same level of high,” said Dr Wyne.

She referred to lottery winners, who experience immense happiness to begin with, and lose that high after just a few months. Research shows that after living as a rich person for three months, winners’ happiness resets itself to pre-win levels - meaning they would need another huge positive event to again raise their happiness level.

“Often people have a ‘deficit’ mindset where they think that what they have isn’t enough and an unfair distribution. These people focus a lens on life that prevents them from seeing the gifts in their own life and prevents gratitude for what they have,” explained Dr Wyne. Such people will constantly look for more and believe that ‘more’ is the secret to happiness.

Minimalism: Beyond its basic meaning

1) Minimalists prefer to own less, making space and time to seek what truly makes them happy in ways that are not material.

“If you want to change your mentality, it has to be rooted in a very strong ‘why’. ‘Why am I doing this’? Reflecting on and knowing what overconsuming is doing to you and also identifying what you want to achieve instead,” said Dr Wyne.

2) Minimalism may not be for everybody

Finding contentment and fulfillment through less may not work for everybody. It isn’t the amount you have that determines your happiness, “whether that be excess or dearth. It is the meaning of your life and actions, the purpose with which we live, that does,” says Dr Wyne.

A wholehearted life is where you live through times that are both good and bad, where sometimes you seek and enjoy abundance and sometimes you experience and suffer from deficit, but in balance, you feel grateful for what you have.”

3) A need-based life

For some people, intentionally consuming, purchasing and surrounding themselves with only what they need, can achieve calmness and wellbeing. By ridding themselves from real-life clutter and endless choices and possessions, they are able to reduce their stress levels.

“When we limit unneeded stuff, we limit mental chatter and stress. This enables us to a better chance at enjoying the things that do matter, pursuing our hobbies and passions and attending to our priorities,” says Dr Wyne.


4) Why decluttering is destressing

Many people report feeling much better after decluttering their homes, closets or lives- simply because they have cleared way to identify what matters in their lives.

“When you streamline and refine, you can enjoy what you have and have more resources to mindfully operate in your environment,” Dr Wyne says.