The Paradox of Choice

On any given day, if you ask me whether I want you to tell me what to order for dinner (or wear, or how to get to work, etc.) or whether I want to choose for myself, I’ll of course say I want the freedom of choice. And you probably would, too. One of the unquestioned assumptions of our modern world is that choice is good. Choice, in fact, is essential to happiness. After all, choice equates freedom, ability, authority, power, possibility. Lack of choice is therefore equated with oppression, depravity, powerlessness, and monotony. Choice is good…always…period.

Or is it?

In this very engaging TED Talk, Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz opens us up to the paradox of choice: that having choices is, in fact, in many ways good, and yet at the same time, having choices – especially when there are multiple choices in front of us – is also paralyzing, creates greater levels of dissatisfaction, and makes us feel worse than if we had fewer choices. In short, as Schwartz says, while having some choice is almost always better than having none, having lots of choices is not better than having some choices and, in fact, it’s often worse.

Why? Well, for that I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Prof. Schwartz, who in this Talk shares a summary of the research he presents in his fascinating book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. But for now, at least consider the possibility that limitless choice does not bring unlimited happiness and that, in fact, the secret to a good life may reside almost entirely in managing our expectations.

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