The paradox of choice

I’ve just finished reading The paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz. The main thesis of the book is that having too many choices, together with feeling pressured to make the best choice rather than a “good enough” choice makes us unhappy. The more choices we have, the more time and effort we spend weighting and comparing alternatives, the less satisfied we are with our choices.

The Paradox of Choice and Blink are at the same time very different and very similar books. Blink is more entertaining: to make his point, Malcolm Gladwell tells really good stories. Barry Schwartz lists numbers, studies, and results. Blink is about rapid decision making. The Paradox of choice is about deliberate (and often excruciating) decision making. But the two books cite many of the same studies and, most importantly, they both have a strong and urgent moral message to communicate.

Blink’s message is that the ill effects of snap judgement (bias, stereotyping, and “momentary autism”) can and should be reduced through awareness and training. The Paradox of choice wants to prove that we could be so much happier if we just stopped being so picky and avoided comparing ourselves only to people who are doing better than we are. Happiness, says Schwartz, comes from finding the time to be grateful for what we have and content with our “good enough” lives.

By the way, does anybody have recommendations for recent good books on decision making?

[Oh, I almost forgot: What would Nancy White say about all this?]

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4 thoughts on “The paradox of choice

  1. Haha, so you are playing a linky game with me, Antonella? Big smile.

    I have spent quite a bit of time this summer with friends from Europe visiting the US. The consistent message has been, “how do you deal with all the choices you have in the US.” And as we talk, we ask, what is the value of so many choices after a certain point? This sense of paralysis is real.

    I’m not sure those of us who are American and used to this even see it sometimes, even as we become imprisoned by it.

    But then again, anyone can go to Google and come up with more choices than a human can deal with. 🙂

  2. See, I knew you would have something interesting so say about choices…

    I personally get totally paralized when I have to shop and I have too many choices. And it takes so long to get anything done…

  3. For an interesting book on decision-making, try “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki…

  4. I greatly enjoyed Blink, Paradox of Choice but was slightly less impressed by the Wisdom of Crowds, although I like Surowiecki’s financial column in The New Yorker.

    Three suggestions, although they are not about decision making per se.: 1
    ) Malcolm Gladwell’s old New Yorker articles available in pdf form on his great web site. Several cover
    2) Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives by psychiatrist Anna Fels
    3) The Progress Paradox : How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook. similar to Schwartz in style, also recommended by Martin Seligman. I found his stats very useful to improve my general optimism about the world. Thought the concluding chapters were weak.

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