Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz

Staff review by Chris Saliba

In this useful book Barry Schwartz clearly demonstrates that too much choice is confusing people and making them less happy. 

First published a decade ago, in 2004, Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice is certainly more relevant than ever. The Internet not only offers more commercial choices, but with the explosion of social media, it offers more social choices as well. The main message of Schwartz’s book is to calm down and accept that it may never happen, or may never happen as perfectly as you expected.

The main idea behind the book is that there are two types of people, maximisers and satisficers. Maximisers are in a never ending quest for the perfect. Hence when they must make a decision it is an agonising affair. It becomes impossible to settle on a decision, because there is always the fear that they could have done better.

Satisficers, on the other hand, take as their motto “near enough is good enough”. They don’t spend too much time making their decisions. They’re more happy-go-lucky. If they get it wrong when making a decision, they don’t spend too much time regretting it.

As the reader can surmise, maximisers suffer more. They set the bar so high that they are constantly being disappointed. Even when they are materially better off than satisficers, they still feel they have lost out.

The Paradox of Choice you could perhaps file under behavioural economics. It uses a lot of psychological research to back up its arguments. The most famous test case it cites is an experiment where two groups of people were given a choice of ice cream. Group one got to choose from six different flavours, while group two had 36 to choose from. You’d think the second group, choosing from 36 ice cream flavours, would have had the better experience, but no, it was the first group that reported greater satisfaction with the taste of their ice creams!

Some choice is good, we learn, but too much choice is counterproductive. And lowering your standards and expectations is a good strategy to make your life more enjoyable.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780062449924 RRP: $29.99

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