Read time: 2 min
You only live once. Be spontaneous. Quit your job, find a new person to date, and always keep your options open.
You'll hear YOLO used less now, but the mindset lives on. To maximise every choice, do everything, so you don't regret anything. But could this mindset be costing you happiness?
We have all had moments of "infinite browsing mode," the state of hopping from job to job or relationship to relationship in the same indecisive way that one peruses Netflix for the perfect film.
We have more agency over what we do now than ever before, but weighing all the options can inhibit our happiness. We hold out for a better-imagined alternative instead of committing to one choice.
We have reason to deliberate and consider all our options. We want to treat our future selves well. But we are miss guided as to what treating our future selves well looks like. We assume that treating our future self well means leaving as many doors open as possible, but science shows this is wrong.
Why don't we like to commit?
One is a fear of regret. We worry that if we commit to something, we might wake up 20 years later and wish we had committed to something else.
Another is a fear of missing out (FOMO). We grieve the fun experiences that we won't get to have.
There's no doubt that choice is good, but there comes a point where it harms us. When we have many options, even when we commit decision ghosts can haunt us. These are the ghosts of all the choices we didn't make. We compare our reality to the imagined reality of our decision ghosts, 'what could have been?' and feel bad about our choice.
Why should we commit?
New doors open. Say you choose a partner, you get to know them, understand who they are and all their quirks and you can love them more. And feel the benefits of a committed long-term relationship.
Our preference change. We have a powerful physiological immune system. Our mind has techniques to rationalise a choice seamlessly. Think back to a time choice was made out of your hands, like you were rejected from a job and got another. Your mind probably found flaws in the other job and rationalised why this one is the right one.
But the only way for your physiological immune system to kick in is by making a choice.
A study by Daniel Gilbert illustrates this. Photography students were asked to take a series of photos and then made to choose two favourites to be printed.
The students were divided in two.
One group was told to pick one out of the two to take home, and the other picture would be kept on campus, which they could swap out at any time.
The other group chose one photo and had their second photo taken away, never to be seen again.
Can you guess which group was happier? The ones who had the option to switch were removed because their physiological immune system kicked in.
Most of us design our lives with maximum freedom. But we should be trying to limit our choices and commit for maximum happiness.
You only live once, so commit and let the magic happen.