Biff America: Voltaire and pants

I don’t mean to brag, but I might have just discovered the key to happiness. But don’t get your hopes up. I could be totally wrong.

At a recent study, conducted by a mid-western college, 20 freshmen were deputized as test subjects. They brought the students to clothing stores, gave them money and told them to buy a pair of blue jeans.

They divided the students into two groups. The first group went to a small store in a rural town that had one or two different styles of jeans available but a large selection of sizes to choose from. Every student was able to find a pair of jeans to purchase that fit them.

The second group was brought to a huge store in a big city where there were many different types, colors, and styles of jeans available. Being that the options were greater and the store more urban, the prices for some products were higher, so each student was given a little more cash than the first group.

Though it took the second group longer to vet all the possible choices and settle on the desired pants, all came away with jeans to purchase that fit.

The students went back to their college life and did what college kids do. Truthfully, I have no idea what kids attending real colleges do, since my only form of higher education was when, in the late ’70s, I matriculated from the University of Breckenridge, where the wearing of pants was optional.

So, fast forward a year or two later to those same college students. By now, all the jeans were well broken-in and some might have been laundered. Those same students were asked to review their pants and rate them on comfort, looks, durability and their general satisfaction with the product. They were told this was a survey commissioned by the various clothing manufacturers.

Without exception — as far as any of you know — those students who had had limited options rated their trousers higher and were more satisfied with their purchases. This contrasted dramatically with those other students, who had many options to choose from. In fact, those who had a larger selection of pants to choose from were by and large unhappy with their trousers.

The moral of this story is, if your free slacks fit, stop your belly aching.

Now comes the point when I’m forced to stop beating around the bush and assert my aforementioned happiness revelation. So, what is the key to happiness? Well, if I knew that for certain, I’d be driving a vehicle manufactured during this decade. But I do contend that the culprit of much dissatisfaction is too many choices.

Or to put it more elegantly and in the words of Voltaire, “The best is the enemy of the good.”

We used to have 12 TV channels; now we have hundreds. Before, if we wanted to get phlegmmy, milk options were whole and skim. Now we can choose cow, soy, rice, oat or beet. When I was a kid, I compared myself to other kids I knew. Now kids compare themselves to every teen idol on the internet. And the list goes on. I was shopping for a toilet plunger and there were ten options. I’m sure in a year, I’ll no longer love my plunger.

Granted I’m just an aging ski bum who attended a fake college where people didn’t wear pants, but I contend we were a happier country when we had fewer choices. Again, I blame the internet.

In fact, I would say in addition to all the good stuff the web does, it alerts us all to the countless choices out there and can make us question our previous decisions. For instance, back in pre-internet days, the divorce rate was about 26%. Now couples can see what they are missing, and it has risen to almost 50%. For that reason, we are still on dial-up at our house.

And I happen to know the first thing most couples do after separating is to buy new pants.

Now granted many folks around the globe, and even in my white bread resort, have way fewer options available than are required to be comfortable. And though I would love to say they are more content than those of us who are spoiled, I cannot. But I would speculate they appreciate what they do have more than the rest of us appreciate what we have too much of.

I decided I needed a second opinion on my assertion that abundance of options breeds dissatisfaction. The only one nearby to ask was my mate. So I went downstairs to ask her thoughts. Unfortunately, I found her shopping online for new pants.

Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at

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