Choice is something that has always interested me. It is the reason why I started casually studying economics—the study of how people choose. I was always intrigued of when some people are presented with the same choice, some of them take much longer to arrive at a decision than others.
One night while watching Steven Colbert, a gentleman by the name of Barry Schwartz comes on to present his newest book. The interview with Mr. Colbert was a joke interview, and involved Mr. Colbert playing the part of the average North American. Mr. Colbert, like most of us, was raised to know that more choice means more freedom. We all know that to be free is better than to be constrained, so by logic we should all want the most amount of choice possible. However sitting right across from Mr. Colbert was Barry Schwartz, a man that was arguing that too much choice—too much freedom— is actually bad, and is having a negative impact on our general level of happiness. It was called “The Paradox of Choice”.
Too Much Choice Is A Bad Thing
The author neatly presents the book in four parts. Part 1 through part 3 explains When We Choose, How We Choose, and Why We Suffer. The fourth and final part provides guidance on how to make our daily choices easier. The central theme of this book is that we are led to believe that more choice is better; the more choice we have the happier we will be. Barry argues that our culture of abundance is making us less satisfied with our choices because we are regret all of the choices that we didn’t make more.
In Part 1, Barry examines a typical life in greater detail and exposes the vast quantity of choices that we all face on a daily basis. Many of these choices have become routine so we don’t give them much thought, but in general we have to decide much more than our grandparents did. This chapter establishes Barry’s point that we have to unnecessarily choose too much.
People choose differently depending on the situation and their past experiences. Within part 2 of his book, Barry explains the common process behind choice and identifies people who are maximizers and people who are satisficers (He even provides a little quiz for you to determine which type of chooser you are). A maximizer is a person who will spend vast quantities of time choosing to ensure they have made the absolute best choice, whereas a satisficer will optimize the time spent choosing with the satisfaction gained from the choice.
Anchoring – A Great Marketing Tactic
Part 2 was my favorite section of the book because Barry also explains all of the outside influences that affect a decision. One such factor is the concept of anchoring. Sometimes stores will put two similar products next to each other in a display, but one of the products will be substantially more expensive. We will use the more expensive product as our anchor; using it to compare against the less expensive product. From comparison most people will think that they are getting a bargain and walk out of the less expensive product. The store may not have sold many of the expensive items, but they nonetheless made a tidy profit from the sale of the lesser expensive one.
Part 3 is where Barry presents his argument that more choice doesn’t necessarily make us happy. Barry presents many reasons why choosing can make us unhappy, but my favorite was the concept of adaptation. In summary, we get used to things but our expectations do not change. By using a car as an example, he argues that your first car is your favorite car because it was new, exciting, and provided you with something that you never had before. Every subsequent car you buy just doesn’t quite feel as good and you start to feel a little cheated from your purchase. People put a disproportionate amount of weight on this slight disappointment then they should and it may even cause a little regret about the purchasing decision.
The 1969 Dodge Monaco
I certainly remember my first car and it will forever be my favorite. It was a 1969 Dodge Monaco. It was a sort of granny smith apple green, as long as a suburban and as wide as a semi-truck. It had bench seats in the front and the back that could comfortably seat four. The seat belts were the same you find on an airplane. We nicknamed it “The Boat” because when you drove it down the road, it rocked back and forth, up and down similar to a boat on water. Oh yea, and only 3 of the 4 doors worked. I would still drive it today if I could. No other car has made me feel quite so good, and I will never attach myself in the same way. My next car will probably just be a car to me; something to move me and my stuff around. The same can be said about internet speeds. I still remember the day when dialup was king and a 30 second page load was fast. Now I get annoyed if I have to wait at all for a webpage to load, although the service has substantially improved and I pay no more for the service.
In the fourth and final part of his book, Barry presents a series of strategies to managing the amount of choice we have to deal with on a daily basis. This ranges from managing your expectations and even when to choose about choosing. The most provocative recommendation is to learn to love restraint. Throughout the book Barry brings up the research that has shown that the average North American is actually less happy than their great grandparents, even though we have much more opportunity, comforts, and choice. Being presented with less choice makes it easier for us to compare between options and when we eventually do make a choice, we will regret the choices we didn’t make less.
The End Result
I really enjoyed this book because it presented a lot of interesting little insights into our daily lives and the choices we make. It teaches you how we are influenced to make decisions and how these decisions affect our general mood. If you decide to read this book I think you will also agree with the author that more is less.
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