Constant optimization = suboptimal life

I discovered Economics in college, after taking required principles of macro- and microeconomics. This social science that studies scarcity and resources allocation enveloped the way I already viewed the world and put a name to it. As I learned about economic problems, which can even include decision-making, I became obsessed with the finding the optimal point.

At what price do we sell goods and at what level do we produce them, given the demand and supply curves? What is the best consumption basket for us, given our budget and preferences? What level of harm to the environment is optimal, given our needs and wants of goods produced from raw materials?

Since I was a little girl, I constantly sought the optimal ways of doing things. I remember helping my dad with the groceries and stacking cans as high as I could possibly carry them, to minimize the number of trips from the bags to the pantry. He scolded me often and would tell me that I should make as many trips as were safe. If I had too many cans, they could topple and land on my feet. I waited till he turned around and continued piling cans.(Ironically I now find that my almost-11-month-old son relishes the rare moments that I don’t have my eyes glued to him to engage in forbidden activities like yanking books off the shelves and climbing onto the sofa.)

Nowadays, as I run errands, I think of all the to-do items on my list that I can check off and how best to go from place to place without overlapping routes. When I cook at home, I wonder how many other chores I can juggle as I wait for the stew to come to a boil. My mind runs all the possibilities and the best combination of activities nonstop, which results in restless nights and daytime mental fatigue. I calculate arbitrarily the impact of doing one thing before another or putting it off for another week.

Learning from Economics that people are rational and thus make decisions as such has made me hyper-aware of the choices I make. But the truth is that we often cannot truly articulate even to ourselves the slight nuisances and small degrees of our preferences and needs.

Aiming to optimize all our decisions leads to being stranded in the myriad of options that life offers. I suppose this is what analysis paralysis is. It’s perfectionism. It’s trying to be solely rational and removing what it is that makes us human. I am fighting my urge to make the best choice even now but I hope this post reminds us all (especially me) that life is short.

Make choices. Move forward. Live. Be happy.

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