Tips For Staying Happy With Our Limitless Choices

Paradox of ChoiceDo numerous choices lead to more satisfaction in life? Barry Schwartz doesn’t think so.

Schwartz' depiction of too many choices

Schwartz' depiction of the problem with choices.

As a professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, Schwartz says society believes that increase in our choices lead to an increase in our overall welfare.

But the problem, says Schwartz, is that seemingly limitless choices, such as the ones we face when buying jeans or a new phone, can lead to decision-making paralysis and, in some cases, clinical depression.

Schwartz tags the negative consequences associated with too much choice as follows:

  • Regret. It’s easy to imagine that another alternative would be better which often leads to a bigger sense of regret about a decision.
  • Opportunity costs. Imagining the options and the opportunities that alternative choices afford subtract from a sense of satisfaction.
  • Escalation of expectations. With so many choices, our expectations of how good something could or should be reinforce a quest for perfection. As a result, we are less satisfied with our results, even when they’re good results. It may also be more difficult to have experiences that bring us a sense of surprise when we continually set the bar too high.
  • Self-blame. In the arena of unlimited choices, you may attribute a less-than-ideal purchase to an inability to choose wisely. Ultimately, you can often feel responsible for making a poor choice.

Tips That Can Help

So what do we do about the ubiquitous “freedom” we’re confronted with? In his book, Schwartz offers several tips, including the following:

  • Be more of a “Satisficer” rather than a “Maximizer.” Find contentment in making a purchase that’s good enough rather than trying to maximize or seek the best product all the time.
  • Choose when to choose. Spend more time on decisions that matter most. Narrowing decisions to a few top choices can be helpful (i.e. “I will only consider two different types of X.”)
  • Make your decisions non-reversible. Be satisfied with your choice and move on.
  • Consider the opportunity costs of opportunity costs. Avoid the “grass is always greener mentality.”
  • Manage expectations and comparisons to others.

You can view Schwartz’ 2005 TED talk for more on the pardox of choice.

  • When I read this book and learned of the research it actually impacted how I did things in my life — especially around the use of social media and technology — all of which I love. Every so often I do a ‘cleanse’ — I back down to wanting one – three things, and notice I almost resent all the choices. What the book did was help me see how the feelings of indecision or angst were actually grounded in too many options. Thank you