Add/Drop week might just be the most stressful week of my semester. Maybe, just maybe, even more stressful than finals.
Some people, such as my parents, view the ten-day fiasco as a blissful opportunity for discovery. But others (like me) just can’t handle the thought of so many choices.
The class-search is inextricably tied to the most nerve-racking book I own: the Cornell Courses of Study, 2006-07. Just the thought of those 690 pages filled with endless options make my heart palpitate a bit faster.
When choosing courses each semester, my over-analytical neuroses kick in. The very fact that I have so much choice sets me up for dissatisfaction with whatever decision I make. I’ll always wonder whether I made the right one, or if I’d have benefited more from the route not taken.
The anxiety associated with choice is counterintuitive. Variety, we’ve always been told, is the “spice of life.” But with 400 courses to choose from in our majors, and 700 brands of toothpaste on the shelf at Tops, have our lives become a little too spicy?
I often think the happiest people are those with limited choices because they’re forced to make the best of what’s around. Given fewer options, people can focus their energy on maximizing a given situation, and concentrate less on the possibilities of the path not explored. This Less-Choice-is-More theory (which I’ll call LCIM) applies to classes, to relationships and to life in general.
Yesterday, for example, I went to the career office to figure out what I’ll be doing with my life-in-general once I graduate. When I was young, my parents told me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted. Mom and Dad thought they were doing me a service by making the sky the limit, but in reality, they were setting me up for sleepless nights and some major stress wrinkles. Why couldn’t they just tell me I’d have to take over the family business (which doesn’t exist) or else I’d lose their love forever? That would have made my life so much easier.
But they didn’t. They gave me a choice, and I chose to study Communication, which is about as vague and open-ended a major as the last season finale of The O.C. So now what? Well, I could do anything. That’s the beauty of this Land of Opportunity in which we live. However, as a senior in college who’s about to plunge into the dreaded job-search, endless opportunity isn’t looking so beautiful.
Dating is yet another area to which, I believe, the LCIM theory applies. At Cornell, there are so many people with whom you could be compatible. But that’s precisely the problem; whenever I start seeing someone, I can’t help but wonder: might I mesh better with one of the other 10,000 male students at this place? So here I am, single, and looking for someone “better” for me than my last prospect.
But let’s pretend I went to Ithaca College, whose student body is but a fraction of Cornell’s. If I found a boy who I thought was cute and got along with 90 percent of the time, might I be more inclined to hold on to a good thing?
The LCIM theory has a growing entourage of supporters. The July 17th issue of New York magazine ran an article called “Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness,” which described a website that mathematically calculated one’s level of contentment. You fill in your zip code, answer a bunch of questions about yourself and your “happiness level” pops up on a scale of 1 to 5.
Chris Peterson, designer of the site and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that the “happiest zip codes” were all located in the rural South or rural Midwest. Conversely, some of the most miserable zip codes were those beginning with 101, which include New York City and the surrounding areas.
Clearly, there are many possible causes for those results. For one, the data could have been skewed by the voluntary applicant pool. But for the moment, let’s say they weren’t skewed. Let’s say that rural America is significantly happier than midtown Manhattan. After spending this past summer living and working in Manhattan, I’d believe it.
On every street in New York City, there are an infinite number of restaurants you could go to for dinner, an unlimited number of women or men you could be dating and an enormous number of jobs in countless different fields for which you could be applying. It might sound fantastic. But no matter what you choose, you will never feel secure that you made the best choice. There is an opportunity cost associated with every decision. What if you’d opted for one of the others? Would you have been more satisfied?
In small-town Branson, Missouri, however, such conundrums rarely exist. The lifestyle is predictable, the choices clear and the outcome a more relaxed community. Some people might say that Branson is provincial and boring. But according to Peterson, they’re way happier than the exciting and open-minded New Yorkers.
I’m not saying I’d like to relocate to Missouri, but I am saying I’d be happier — and a little saner — if I had fewer decisions to make.
At least eating and partying are two things we can cross off our decision-making lists here at Cornell, because frankly, we don’t have too much variety. The shortage of bars and restaurants in Collegetown are a blessing in disguise, contrary to popular belief. Can’t get into Johnny O’s? No worries. Just walk across the street to Ruloff’s … you don’t really have much choice.
Missy Kurzweil is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t Miss Out appears Thursdays.