How Too Many Options Are Impacting Mental Health

options

Are too many options harming our mental health and that of the next generation, both personally and in our professional lives? Never before have we had so many options at our disposals and so many different pathways, role models and decisions to choose from. We’ve all heard that both freedom and money give us more options, but with dissatisfaction, mental health problems and sadly suicides continually on the rise, it might be time to reassess that perception. In fact it might be time we reassess as a society what success looks like altogether. The current lens in which we view our goals and desires just doesn’t seem to be either congruent or sustainable in its current form.

Over a few conversations and a few beers on New Years Eve, a friend murmured the following, ‘the greatest wealth is health and happiness’. I couldn’t agree with that statement more. As I’ve stated many times before having goals that will stretch and improve you are vital, but they also have to be coupled with both a level of gratitude, and with positive and empowering behaviours. Chasing that elusive dollar surviving off endless coffees will not give you the desired result, at least from a mental health and wellbeing perspective. We have to learn to enjoy or at the very least appreciate and learn from the journey. Never before have the options or potential options been so vast and tempting, but at what cost are these endless options coming with? Kasey Todd, a mediation expert and guest on my podcast last year shared with me a staggering statistic, humans today have anywhere between 600,000 and 700, 000 thoughts a day. Now to put that into perspective that is the same amount of thoughts humans would have in a lifetime only four or five generations ago. When you break it down however, it shouldn’t be overly surprising. One hundred plus years ago people only had to be concerned with what was directly in front them and slightly on the periphery. Fast forward to present day and we choose to be concerned with everyone and everything, and obviously the Internet and social media have fed this beast and alarmingly virtual reality is still on its way. A question worth posing is, ‘have our minds evolved enough to handle this overload of thoughts and concern?’ The jury is still very much out…

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I remember travelling through Italy with my wife 18 months or so ago and after a hectic day exploring the amazing coast of Cinque Terre, I needed some time to recuperate. I turned on the TV and the only English-speaking Channel available was showing ‘Transporter 3’ with Jason Stratham. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen but a stratosphere away from an Oscar-worthy movie, however I remember feeling content and almost privileged that I could indulge myself in that movie that night – it was my only option…
Returning home to Australia, the comfort of my bed and ‘more importantly’ the on-demand streaming of Netflix, I found myself spending countless minutes, if not hours feeling frustrated and agitated that we could not agree on which movie or TV show to watch from thousands of options (for those that have Netflix I’m sure you can relate). I believe this has become an archetype for modern day life. The more options we have to choose from the less content we seem to be, and the reverse also seems to be true. Why is this the case? It is a cultural and societal expectation that on-demand options are available, but I feel we need to dissect it a little further to uncover the root cause of this mounting discontentment.

Every second above ground is an experience, an experience that we can never take back, but what if we are all too concerned with the experiences we are missing because of the many options available, instead of appreciating the experience we are currently going through? With options come decisions and occasionally ‘wrong’ decisions, but learning from those ‘wrong’ decisions is so crucial compared to the currently popular alternative. The majority of people ponder and compare themselves to those who have apparently made the ‘right’ decisions. A quick look on social media will always present someone, somewhere exactly where you wish you were, especially if you are not comfortable with the circumstances you are currently going through. It is important to remember however, that people portray an exaggerated lens on social media and without an awareness it could lead to comparison, and more alarmingly mental health fragility.

It may not always be possible to reduce the amount of options we have; however we can definitely change our perspective and subtle actions. It can be as simple as reaching for a book instead of the phone, or engaging in a conversation rather than another glance on Facebook. If there a plethora of options available then just make a decision, and if it is the ‘right’ decision then appreciate it and enjoy it. If it is the ‘wrong’ decision then learn from it and embrace the challenge of it. Just don’t sit and wallow about the experiences you are either missing or that other people are having. The former method will set you on the path of towards more fulfilling and meaningful experiences that will become treasured memories. The only experiences ‘you’ will ever have are the seconds you have, and those seconds are solely dictated by the decisions you make.