December 20, 2005
Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz
In Paradox of Choice, Schwartz presents the hypothesis that the ever-increasing number of choices and options available to individuals in modern society is reducing the level of happiness. Some choice is good, even necessary for a minimum level of happiness, he argues, but the vast abundance of choices available to the American consumer results in a variety of negative emotions — confusion, jealousy, regret, and depression.
I found the book more compelling as a look at the various strategies humans use in making decisions than as an argument against choice. Given this massive number of choices it is necessary to be aware of what is going on, to have strategies for dealing with the constant array of options, and to understand the ways that emotions and flawed logic* lead us astray.
Perhaps the most useful and concise information is contained in the last chapter of the book. Schwartz presents eleven concrete steps to help make decisions easier, less stressful, and to enable people to get the most joy out of the options they choose. This chapter could stand on its own, and is definitely worth a read.
For a great introduction to the subject matter check out this interview with Barry Schwartz at goodexperience.com, audio and video files of a lecture, or listen to a talk from the 2004 PopTech Conference available from IT Conversations. All do a good job of summarizing the main points of the book.
* Some of these flaws, it appears, are not limited to humans. Recent economic studies with monkeys have shown that capuchins seem to share our aversion to loss. Both monkeys and humans are more likely to assume risk in situations where they stand to gain and not in situations where loss is a possibility, even when the net outcome is the same.