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The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

by Barry Schwartz

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2,643434,728 (3.74)35
Whether we're buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented. As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse. By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counter intuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on those that are important and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.… (more)
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English (42)  French (1)  All languages (43)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
For those struggling with stress and anxiety that often comes with decision paralysis, this is a great read.
  JourneyPC | Sep 26, 2022 |
Schwartz describes how having an excessive amount of choice in our lives can bring unhappiness and suffering. He describes some of the many sources of choices in modern life, some psychological factors relating to choice making, how choices can cause unhappiness, and some techniques for dealing with this unhappiness.

First of all, Schwartz emphasizes that choice is good. It is vital to happiness. However, he claims that in the here and now of the 21st century US, we are overwhelmed with choices, most of which are not important and many of which were not faced in the past. Schwartz's claim is that while choice is important, having to use brain power on unimportant choices slowly chips away at happiness. The important choices differ for each individual, so society should not necessarily work to decrease the choices available. However, individuals need to learn how to focus on choices that are important for them and ignore the rest.

Schwartz then discusses decision making. Decision making includes figuring out goals, evaluating the importance of each goal, arraying the options, evaluating each option relative to the goals, pick the winning option, and later using the consequences of the choice to modify future decision making processes. In practice, this process if followed partially and with limited consciousness.

Schwartz proposes that there are two types of choosers: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers want to make the best decisions. Satisficers have a set of goals and are satisfied with any choice that fulfills those goals. Schwartz claims that maximizers might get objectively better results than satisficers, but satisficers get better subjective results (that is, they are happier). Everyone is a maximizer in some areas and a satisficer in others, but most people have a general tendency one way or the other.

The core of the book explores how choice decreases happiness. There are two key points. First, comparing a choice made with a choice that could have been made generally decreases happiness; it is likely that there is some way in which the another choice was superior to the chosen option, even if it was the best choice overall. Second, people adapt; over time, the happiness derived from a choice decreases, contrary to expectations that the happiness would remain constant. These two factors make people more likely to regret the choices they and more likely to feel they do not have control over their happiness. Furthermore, these factors will be more potent for maximizers because they cannot fall back on the idea that their goals were met.

After making a convincing case that excessive choice can decrease happiness, Schwartz discusses a set of tips for preventing too much choice from decreasing your happiness:

- Choose when to choose. Not all decisions on important. Decide which ones are important to you, and do not worry about the rest.

- Be a chooser, not a picker. Make your decisions based on your goals, not just by picking something out of all the choices available. This means that if nothing fits your goals, you may choose not to take any of the options.

- Satisfice more and maximize less.

- Think about the opportunity costs of opportunity costs. That is, limit how much you think about the opportunities you are missing out on.

- Make your decisions non-reversible. This one seems counter intuitive, but the idea is that if you cannot unmake a choice, you are more likely to try to be satisfied with it and making it work.

- Practice an "attitude of gratitude". If you focus on why the choices you have already made were the right choice to make, you will have an easier time not comparing it negatively to the choices you could have made.

- Regret less. Be a satisficer, not a maximizer. Reduce the number of options you have; you cannot miss what you do not know about.

- Anticipate adaption. Know that the pleasure a choice brings you in the future will probably not be as much as the initial pleasure it gives you so that you will not be disappointed when that happens.

- Control expectations. Set your expectations based on your goals and your needs. Be especially wary of letting others (especially the media or advertising) set your expectations.

- Curtail social comparison. Compare yourself to others less. Try to let your satisfaction be determined by how you feel about a decision, not how the actions or choices of others make you think you should feel.

- Learn how to love constraints. Constraints can decrease the amount of time you spend on the unimportant choices and give you the time to focus on the important ones.

Schwartz justifies his claims reasonably well with citations of psychological studies, and he is generally good at pointing out which claims are his own hypotheses and inferences and which are not. Overall, his arguments are convincing, and his claims generally consistent with my own experience, so I am willing to believe with his overall premise that too much choice can decrease happiness.

My main criticism of The Paradox of Choice is that it often seemed like Schwartz was bulking up his points with repetition to make the book longer. The primary content of the book could have fit into a long essay. Since there is not really a market for long essays these days, I do not blame Schwartz for bulking things up to make it book length.

After reading this book, I am going to consciously try to be aware of when I am making choices, when those choices are decreasing my happiness, and what choices are important to me. That awareness alone is reason enough to have read the book for me. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
Needlessly long, labouring the point well past usefulness. Nothing controversial or even surprising. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
This is one of those books that, if you read the introduction, you pretty much know what the rest of the book is about. As I wrote in my personal blog for this book, "anyhow, once you read the prologue, the author gives such a clear road map that the incentive to read the rest of the book is minimal other than to read the illustrations for his arguments." I borrowed it from the UHD Library. If I recall, the reason I wanted to read it was because another blog I follow made a reference to it.

See the rest of my note on the book here:

[http://itinerantlibrarian.blogspot.com/2007/05/booknote-paradox-of-choice.html] ( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
The author points out the inherent contradiction between our political ideology that says that personal freedom should be unlimited, leaving us free to choose whatever we want, and the psychological reality that too many choices leads to increased dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

This outcome is the confluence of multiple factors: Increased choice means we bear a greater responsibility for the outcomes of decisions; this responsibility compels some people to seek to maximize the value of each choice, which alone is a time-consuming effort that deprives them of other things in life that are known to be more directly related to life satisfactions, like social relationships; but because we cannot consider all possible options, any decision made is already tainted with regret and other negative emotions that decrease the psychological satisfaction and enjoyment of the thing chosen. Although Americans live in a world of increased affluence and choices, the cumulative effect is that we are increasingly miserable and depressed. ( )
  dono421846 | Jan 1, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Schwartz, in an effort to help us mend our ways, applies to individual shoppers Simon’s distinction between maximizing and satisficing. A maximizer is someone who “can’t be certain that she has found the best sweater unless she’s looked at all the sweaters,” Schwartz writes.
 
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About six years ago, I went to the Gap to buy a pair of jeans.
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Whether we're buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented. As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse. By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counter intuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on those that are important and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.

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