“People who choose between two attractive options tend to denigrate the option they rejected…but happy people do this less than others.” – from the book, “The wisest in the room.”
For years, the idea of putting down one choice in order to justify the other, has rippled through my veins. I would hear friends or listen to myself justify our decisions, not by explaining the positives in our decision, but by highlighting the negatives in the choice not made. But when I listened to myself do this, I would become frustrated. “Why do I need to do this? Do I not believe in the choice I’m making? Am I not making this choice from a happy place?”
As the years passed and I embraced my demons (after fighting with them for too long), I started making choices without denigrating the un-chosen option. It seemed so natural but it wasn’t. As I became more and more aware of this, I would become more and more triggered by others who would continuously do this. I had no explanation, didn’t even know of the term, “denigration”, didn’t even know that the reasoning could be something as simple as how happy a person is; but the triggering would occur over and over.
When I talked about leaving the country I grew up in, even though I no longer lived there, I would remember the learnings and opportunities it gave me to grow up care-free and safe. When I talked about the city I left in my twenties, I would be grateful for the start in my career it provided me with and for the relaxed beach days. I appreciated the space it gave me to be where I am now. And when I weighed up the pros and cons while making those decisions, I would not make that choice based on what I was leaving behind, but on what I would hopefully gain. It would not be because of “how much I hated the wind” – I really did, but because I was moving closer to family and friends. When I talked about making the decision of being married compared to being divorced, I had to take a step back and ensure that even though I was unhappy at the time, I did not want to make the decision because I hated being married, but because I wanted to resolve my own inner conflicts that I was dealing with. I did not realise that by me seeing the choices in this way, would be a reflection of my level of happiness.
I would compare myself and the way I made choices to the way the other person was making that similar choice. I would shut down, stop listening and respond in a manner that would ultimately end the conversation. At first, I thought it was because their negativity or rejection of the unchosen option was a reflection of my choices and they were indirectly saying they were the wrong ones. Now, I understand that it speaks to the person’s level of happiness. And by happiness, I do not mean the surface level. I do not mean the material aspect. I mean that feeling that allows us to sleep soundly. I mean that feeling that allows us to believe that everything will work out. I mean that level of happiness that once found within us, is untouchable to the rest of the world.
It takes a lot of work to understand how happy we are in the world and within ourselves. And sometimes it’s easier to just denigrate the choice we’re not taking. But in doing this, we do not see the damage we do; the denial of all the good things in the choice not taken, the difficulty we create because we shut off the unchosen option from ever being there again; the guilt in now living with the choice we made and being unable to change our minds because we’ve denigrated the unchosen option so much.
The next time you’re faced with making a choice, whether it’s between two different types of desserts or two different life paths, try not denigrating the unchosen option and see how it reflects with your level of happiness.