The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz - Book Summary


Modern society presents us with so many choices that make us believe that we will have better choices and be more satisfied. However, author Barry Schwartz argues that too many choices can also disrupt our psychological as well as emotional balance. Through arguments based on today's social science research, the author demonstrates why more might actually be less.

Who should read this book?

  • Those who care about why making decisions is hard
  • Those who want to know the consequences of being faced with too many choices
  • Those who are fans of Irrational, Fast and Slow Thinking

Who is the author of this book?
Barry Schwartz is a psychologist and Swarthmore University professor of Social Theory and Behavior. He has published several books, including The Price of Life : How the Free Market Eats away at the Good in Life , and is a regular author of several New York Times articles. York Times, USA Today and Scientific American.

1. What did you learn from this book?

In today's materialistic society, every day we are faced with countless choices, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. It is these choices that make us feel life to the fullest and liberate our true selves. Or at least we think so.

The Paradox of Choice radically changes popular views and argues that when faced with too many choices and demanding demands, it can be psychologically exhausting and debilitating. We can hardly choose.

When we make the final decision, the existence of other options can also make it difficult for us. In this recap, you'll understand how and why too much choice cancels out the sense of pleasure we get from our choices.

Fortunately, The Paradox of Choice also shares how to avoid the negative effects of being overloaded with choices by looking for appropriate restraints. The author suggests how we simplify decision making and be satisfied with our choices.

2. The choices we face every day have increased dramatically in recent years.

Just a few decades ago, the options for everyday life were really limited.

For example, in our parents' generation, utility services were distributed exclusively, so consumers didn't have to wonder who would provide electricity or phone service. And when it comes to education choices, universities often require students to complete two years of general education with a very limited choice of courses.

But as society advances, the choices for everyday life also increase dramatically. We today face a need for choice unlike any other in human history.

Today, universities are likened to shopping malls for knowledge, embodying the principle that freedom of choice is paramount. Even at Swarthmore, a small university with about 1,350 students, offers about 120 general subjects, of which students only need to choose 9 subjects. In fact, in some modern universities, students are allowed to freely pursue their own interests.

Such superfluous choices are everywhere, the utilities sector being an example, deregulation of the state and competition in the telephone and electricity industries offering plenty of options. to dizziness. And we are also offered a variety of options for health insurance, retirement and medical care.

In fact, when it comes to any area of ​​everyday life, the options available have grown significantly in number over the past decades. So, whether we are choosing a utility service provider or deciding on a job, today's society presents us with many choices.

3. The more options there are, the harder it is to make a good decision.

Philosopher Abert Camus posed the question: "Should I kill myself or drink a cup of coffee?", pointing out that in every field, in every moment of life, there are always options waiting for us to decide. Not only that, but our choices always have alternatives.

Fortunately, though, most of our actions are so automatic that we don't really consider other alternatives. So it's a fact that in many choices we don't even consider it: when we put on our underwear or brush our teeth, for example.

But today, we are constantly being offered new options that it takes more effort than ever to decide.

Typically financial and healthcare options require extra research, and most people don't feel they have the basic skills or understanding to make them. wise decisions in such complex areas of life.

Not too long ago, the only health insurance you could choose from was Blue Cross. But now, the choices for plans and providers have become incredibly complex, and it's rare for people to fully understand their health coverage.

More than that, being faced with such demanding choices places the burden of responsibility on the individual. In recent decades, with the boom and shift of trust to the free market, the decision burden has shifted from the government to the people.

This has nothing to do with the petty financial decisions of life, but when it comes to health insurance, retirement plans or medical care, people have a big responsibility. than. For example, one wrong decision by an elderly person can completely ruin financial planning, resulting in a choice of whether to prioritize food or medicine.

The growth of rigorous choices that we ultimately bear the brunt of makes it increasingly difficult to make informed choices, and at the same time freedom of decision ultimately becomes what makes us sick. find it more difficult to make a wise decision.

4. The more options you have, the more likely you are to make a mistake

When we know what we really need, we can predict how we'll feel about each choice. Although it sounds simple, it is a challenge.

When faced with a choice between multiple solutions, it is easy to make a mistake when making a decision. That's due to the fact that choices are partly driven by our memories, but that's often a biased factor.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that how we recall past experiences is entirely dependent on how we felt at the peak of our emotions at the time (for the best or the worst). best) and how we feel when it's over.

For example, when you are reliving a trip, your impressions of the trip may be dominated by the best or worst experiences, such as an argument with your spouse, or the way the trip was taken. go to the end, eg the weather for the last day.

Plus, predictions regarding what that choice will feel are rarely accurate. This is illustrated in a study where researchers asked students to choose snacks for the break of a weekly seminar.

One group chooses once a week, simply because they know how they feel when they eat it. Students who choose dishes they like will choose the same dishes other weeks. Another group was asked to choose different types of food for the next three weeks, with the students choosing from a variety because of the mistaken suspicion that they would get bored of the same food again, even if they liked it.

As a result, students who were forced to predict how they would feel three weeks from now were less happy with their choice.

The tendency to make mistakes only worsens as the number and complexity of decisions increases. Therefore, if the students in the example above had to choose from a few hundred, rather than a few dozen, snacks, they would find it more difficult to predict what they would want.

Having more options not only makes decision-making more difficult, but it also steals the sense of satisfaction we get from that choice. You will understand this in the next section.

5. The more options we have, the less satisfied we are with our decisions

Let's say you're choosing a vacation: How about traveling in Northern California? Or should you stay at a beach house all week in Cape Cod?

Whichever you choose, that decision will forego the opportunities offered by other options.

This is called opportunity cost, and is an essential part of decision-making considerations. For example, the opportunity cost of a vacation in Cape Cod is the ability to go to a great restaurant in California. Unfortunately, these opportunity costs reduce satisfaction with the choices we ultimately make.

This is evidenced by a study in which many people were asked how much they pay to subscribe to popular magazines. Some participants were shown a variety of magazines while others viewed similar magazines. In most cases, respondents underestimated the value of magazines when they saw them alongside others.

So when we need to make decisions regarding opportunity costs, we feel less satisfied with our choices than if we didn't know other solutions. And the more alternative solutions we have, the more experience we have with opportunity costs, the less happy we are with the final choice. Take a look at this study: two groups ate a variety of jams on a sample table. One group can only sample 6 different types of jam, the other group can sample 24 types. The group that was sampled more was found to be less likely to buy than the group that was introduced to only 6 samples. Why so?

When people in this experiment narrowed their choices down to a specific jam, the rich appeal of all the unselected jams promoted and made the selected jam seem less special. Therefore, the higher the selection cost, the less attractive the selected jam becomes than expected. Thus, the more jams there are, the less appealing the selected variety will appear.

As this example shows, more choices reduce both our decision power and our choice satisfaction.

6. Making choices by habit rarely pleases us as much as we expect.

When was the last time you bought something really beautiful? Imagine it's an electronic magnifying glass that you took a long time to decide to buy. If you're basically like all living things, your satisfaction with this device will diminish after a while.

Humans, like other animals, respond less and less to any event as long as it remains the same – simply because we get used to it.

This process is known as adaptation , and is a feature of the human psyche.

For example, a resident of a small town in Manhattan may be overwhelmed by the bustle, but a New Yorker accustomed to the hustle and bustle may not notice it at all.

Unfortunately, the acclimatization process loses interest faster than we think, when we could be more excited by a positive experience.

Consider our adaptation to contentment (“pleasure”) as an example. Let's say the first experience increases your satisfaction by 20 "degrees", the next time it can only push it up to 15, and then 10 the next time. Ultimately, the experience may not increase that feeling anymore.

In a famous example of hedonic adaptation, one study asked seemingly lucky or unlucky participants to rate their level of happiness. Some of those last year won the lottery between $50,000 and $1 million, while others were disabled by accident. The results showed that the lottery winners were not happier than the average person in general and that the accident victims still rated themselves as happy (although there were still people who were less happy than the average person). This proves that humans can adapt to both luck and unhappiness.

You can hope that a newly purchased computer will bring you endless joy, however, the joy that comes from any positive experience is short-lived.

7. The overwhelming amount of choice contributes to the unhappiness of modern society.

It seems that as American society becomes richer, and Americans are freer to pursue whatever they like, they become less and less happy.

Consider the fact that U.S. GDP – a fundamental measure of prosperity – has doubled in the last 30 years while “while Americans’ “happiness rate” has been steadily decreasing. In fact, the number of people who describe themselves as “very happy” has plummeted over the past 30 years, highlighted by a sudden increase in depression levels. It is estimated that the number of cases of depression increased tenfold between 1900 and 2000. So what does this number indicate?

Simply put, we are always stuck between good options. When we are offered too many options, the final choice turns out to be disappointing and we always tend to blame ourselves – indeed we are suffering.

Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered that inability or lack of control leads to depression if one interprets the cause of failure as global ("I fail in every area of ​​my life"), chronic (“I will always be a failure”) and personal (“I seem to be the only one who always fails”).

Self-blame patterns are constantly proliferating in a world of so many options. It's easier to blame yourself for a disappointing outcome than it is under similar circumstances but with fewer options. That is because if we are allowed to control our destiny, of course we will expect more of ourselves. Therefore, it seems that there will be no one but myself to blame.

Since modern life produces so many choices along with an emphasis on freedom of choice, we seem to blame ourselves more if we fail to make informed choices. bright.

More self-blame leads to disappointment, so we have reason to believe that too many choices in society are correlated with modern unhappiness.

8. Options are more demanding and less satisfying if you are a perfectionist: someone who searches and selects only the optimal results.

Imagine you are going to buy a sweater. If you're ambitious for the best deal possible, and you push yourself to check other options to make sure you've found the right sweater, you may be a perfectionist.

According to the decision-making strategy, optimization is always a difficult task because the ambitious perfectionist chooses only the optimal outcomes. If you're a perfectionist, each option is likely to get you stuck in a jumble of deliberations.

For example, because there are endless possibilities out there, only the best is chosen, perfectionists need plenty of time comparing prices of items, both before and after they make a decision. buy that item.

In fact, studies conducted by the author and colleagues show that when faced with choices, perfectionists waste a lot of time imagining other possibilities – even when these possibilities are utopian. . For example, when faced with a choice between a light and warm cardigan and a cheap one, a perfectionist will quickly imagine finding a cheap cardigan in his imagination.

Not only do perfectionists torment themselves in this way, but people who have finally solved their choice problem and have actually made their choice still tend to be less satisfied with the choice. own than others.

For this reason, perfectionists are particularly sensitive to “buyer regret.” For example, a perfectionist who has successfully purchased a satisfactory sweater after searching a lot is still annoyed by other options that he has not had time to explore. The more they fantasize about “what should have” been chosen, the less appealing their choice becomes. In the world of limitless options, perfectionists always find it difficult and mentally exhausted, they will not be able to sit still without having the best choice.

However, as we'll see in the next section, you'll find you don't need to continue to be a perfectionist. There is a simpler option for you that allows you to have a better solution: become content – ​​Satisficer.

9. Choices will be less demanding and more satisfying if you are a content person: someone who can be satisfied with “good enough”

We all know that humans can make quick and decisive choices. Satisfied people are characterized by having certain criteria available to choose from instead of pursuing the "best" goal.

Contentment is a simple decision strategy – that is, looking until you find a choice that meets their criteria and stopping at that point.

The contented people's world is divided into two categories, one that meets their criteria and one that does not. So when choosing, they only need to examine the options in the first category.

The conscientious person looking to buy a new sweater will be pleased with the first shirt she finds that meets the criteria for size, quality, and price. Conscientious people don't care about better sweaters or better bargaining power. Besides saving time, what are the benefits of tri tri?

Satisfied people are happier with their choices, and more importantly, their lives are happier in general.

Because contented people don't compare endless options when they choose, they experience no reduced satisfaction when calculating the likelihood of other choices.

And since they're not trying to make a perfect decision, they don't spend too much time thinking about options that offer perfect gratification in the fantasy world.

Thus, they find it easier to be satisfied with their choices in particular and with life in general. In fact, in surveys measuring happiness and optimism, contented people consistently score high.

Faced with so many choices in today's society, you're in luck if you're self-sufficient because the number of options available won't have a big impact on your decision-making. The good news is that most of us have the potential to be content, although there may be those who feel overwhelmed by the overwhelming choice. All that is required to meet expectations is the “best” possible.

10. If we consider voluntary binding as a kind of freedom, our social relationships will improve and we will feel more comfortable ourselves.

The limitless freedom of choice in so many areas of life can make us lonely and make us more tired than we think.

In today's society, we can earn and spend more money than before, but we also spend less time with the people around us. The political scientist Robert Lane has explained that the reality is that as our influence and freedom increase, we pay the price with a dramatic decrease in both the quality and quantity of our social relationships, which is the main cause. reduce our happiness.

Such relationships are vital to our mental health, even if they are binding and constraining us in some way. In fact, committing and joining a social group or organization is almost a vaccine against an unfortunate disease.

Considering the traditional Amish knitting community, the prevalence of depression among Amish people is 20% lower than the national rate – a result that demonstrates extremely strong social connections.

However, to establish and maintain such meaningful social relationships comes at the expense of freedom of choice and a willingness to be part of those ties. With close affiliations or social groups: for example, family, close friends or civic associations and the like, we will have to hold ourselves back in order to stay afloat. sustain these relationships.

But how to achieve that? By using rules to limit ourselves and limit the decisions we face, we can lead more manageable lives and reduce our chances of psychological depression.

For example, if you make it a rule that you will never cheat on your partner, you can forego the rash and difficult decisions you may have to face later. But you need to have your own discipline to live by these rules.

Unlimited freedom can interfere with social relationships and the individual will pursue what he or she considers most valuable, similarly, certain constraints will make us more comfortable. When we have to work in an environment of limited options, we can choose less and feel better.

The main message in this book:

Day-to-day decisions are becoming increasingly complex as modern society is flooded with choices. The negative effects on mental state increased with choices. The more choices we have, the harder it is for us to make wise decisions and the less satisfied we are with what we have chosen. It seems that certain voluntary constraints will make us more comfortable. Simply put, if we have to choose less, our chances of being happy will be higher.

Practical advice from the book

Review Your Decisions

A simple exercise to help you limit your options so you can choose less and see better: first, take a look at your decisions, both the big ones and the big ones. small, and then categorize the steps, time, research, and concerns when coming to these decisions. This will give you an overview of the costs associated with different types of decisions and help you establish future rules for how many options you should consider and how much time. and the energy you should invest in the selection.

Become a contented person

Accepting and respecting the “good enough” rule will help us simplify the decision-making process and make it easier to be satisfied. So think about the opportunities in life when you've settled into the "good enough" level and carefully consider how you've chosen in these areas, and then start building. “satisfaction” strategies in other areas of life.