You are at a party and u walk over to a bunch of women talking about the latest web-series that theyt have been watching. “The Crown, its just too good, you have to watch it” exclaims the first one. “Oh, that’s ordinary and its so old now, “The Queen’s Gambit”, is what is hot right now. Its the one to watch.” says the other one. As you are given those questioning looks and you need to share your views.. what do you do? – JUST ACT DUMB.

You decide to take a break after 2 hours of non-stop coding and walk over to the cafeteria. As you pour yourself a fresh hot Cappuccino and grab a chair next to two of your colleagues, they are dying to ask if you watched the latest Deepika Padukone movie released over the weekend. While you are contemplating the possible excuses that could justify the reason for not watching, I suggest that you – JUST ACT DUMB.

As you meet your family friends for a nice hot lunch over a warm Sunday morning brunch and talk is about the next vacation destination, your friend asks if you have been to Maldives or Seychelles. Your mind races back to the discussion at home last week where you were turning down the idea of a trip to Goa. Embarrassed to the hilt, you are thinking of the best way to avoid the question, but u do this – JUST ACT DUMB.

At some point of time, you were known as the ‘Go-To’ guy for gadgets among your batch. You would not only know what was the best and the coolest mobile phone or laptop in town, you invariably would be having it. But as your usage went down, you DON’T change gadgets often and hence don’t track it now (read you don’t know). So when this friend calls and asks about the new Redmi phone that you haven’t heard even the name, you wonder right answer… u have to JUST ACT DUMB.

Last month, when I read Barry Schwartz best selling book, The Paradox of Choice, my mind started racing on what the implication of the examples he shared in his book, meant for today’s world. The book, though published in 2005, felt like it was published a century ago. It talked about the problem of choice that the consumer has (or had in 2005), including examples like 175 types of Salad Dressings in the Super market to a mind-boggling 6.5 million options for type of stereo systems in the consumer electronics store. Then he goes onto to take the interesting example of healthcare and how when a patient goes to a doctor for treatment, even there at the clinic, the doctor is giving the choice to patient on two different types of treatments with various pros and cons !!

Just act dumb 2

Now in 2020, 15 years and biggest pandemic later, our paradox of choice is completely different. With the influx of digital technology in our lives. Anyone with a phone and/or a laptop can generate content which might range from the amateurish to the ultra-cool. Not only content, but the choice of OTT platforms who are vying for our attention for the fast-reducing ‘screen time’.

In education, after the huge influx of new players post the Corona induced lockdown and WFH, we have a range of sources from where we can content, mostly free to start with, to address our needs for learning.

Right from where we want to stay, type of house, kind of furniture, choice of toothpaste, choice of newspaper to type of commute to work to the college our kid can go to and the courses that he/she can pursue, our world is so full of choices, that we are just spending time making decisions after decisions based on whatever set of data is presented to us and our ability to make inference from the same.

No wonder Steve Jobs initially and then later Mark Zuckerburg decided to remove one of the major conflict point in the morning routine (the issue of what to wear, as the wear the same colour of T-shirt and Jeans every day).

Barry further explains in his book that the issue is not just that the no. of choices we have in everything that has gone up dramatically and that it actually gets harder with more choices but in reality, we make more mistakes when we have more choices. And as we make mistakes, we hate the choice we made, which in turn impacts our subsequent choice and finally, despite having chosen based on our free will, we are left with a sour feeling about our overall decision.

For example, consider our adaptation to pleasure (“hedonic adaptation”). If an experience boosts our sense of pleasure by, say, 20 “degrees” at the first encounter, it may boost it by only 15 the next time, and by 10 the time after that. Eventually, the experience may even stop boosting it at all.

In a famous example of hedonic adaptation, a study asked both apparently lucky and unlucky respondents to rate their happiness. Some had won between $50.000 and $1 million in state lotteries within the last year, while others had become paraplegic or quadriplegic as a result of accidents.

Results showed that the lottery winners were no happier than people in general, and that the accident victims still judged themselves to be happy (though somewhat less happy than people in general). This demonstrated that people adapt to even the best and worst of fortunes.

And finally the most important Paradox as presented by Barry is The overwhelming amount of choice contributes to the epidemic of unhappiness in modern society. If you really want to be happy in today’s world, you need to have ‘low expectations’. Another important point that Barry mentioned way back in 2005, which so much holds true in today’s Work From Home scenario is : Our social relations and psychological well-being improve if we embrace certain voluntary constraints on our freedom. If I alone cannot go to office or dress well and go for shopping, then its not fair. But if the whole town/city/country/world ALSO cannot go out, hmm.. then I am OK.

In Summary: Everyday decisions have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming range of choices that modern society presents us with. As the number of choices increases, so do the negative effects choice can have on our psychological well-being. The more options we have, the more difficult it becomes to make a wise decision, and the less satisfaction we will derive from what we actually choose. Therefore, it seems like some degree of voluntary constraint would make everyone better off. By simply choosing less, chances are that we would be more happy.  

ITs OK to Act DUMB and be at peace with yourself. Rather than, in pursuit of ‘please all’, you just go mad in trying to embrace and accept every option for everything thrown up at you all the time.



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Hetal Sonpal

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