Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Paradox of Choice

(cross-posted from Technicolor Typecast Daily)
See below to find out why this is such a superb time for me to share this TED talk with you:  
Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice 

Here's a few key points I've transcribed (transcription is my day job, after all):

The Official Dogma of all Western Industrial Societies
If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do this is to maximize individual freedom... The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice they have, the more freedom they have, and the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have.

We are blessed with the technology that enables us to work every minute of every day from any place on the planet.

What this means:
This incredible freedom of choice we have with respect to work is that we have to make a decision again and again and again about whether we should or should not be working. We can go to watch our kid play soccer and we have our cell phone on one hip and our Blackberry on our other hip and our laptop presumably on our laps, and even if they are all shut off, every minute that we are watching our kid mutilate a soccer game, we are all asking ourselves, "Should I answer this cell phone call?" "Should I respond to this email?" "Should I draft this letter?" Even if the answer to the question is "No," it is certainly going to make the experience of your kid's soccer game very different than it would have been.

All of this choice has two negative effects on people.

One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find very different to choose at all.

The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.

There are several reasons for this.

One of them is that, with a lot of different salad dressings to chose from, if you buy one and it's not perfect - and, you know, what salad dressing is? - it's easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would have been better. What happens is this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was good decision. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.

The secret to happiness is low expectations.

When people make decisions and, even though the results of the decisions are good, they feel disappointed about them; they blame themselves. Clinical depression has exploded in the industrial world in the last generation. I believe a significant - not the only, but a significant - contributor to this explosion of depression, and also suicide, is that people have experiences that are disappointing because their standards are so high, and then when they have to explain these experiences to themselves, they think they are at fault. So the net result is that we do better in general objectively, and we feel worse.

There is no question that some choice is better than none.

But it doesn't follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. There is some magical amount; I don't know what it is. I am pretty confident that we have long since passed the point where options improve our welfare.

What a great TED Talk.  Even though I summarized it pretty well here, this is hardly the whole 20-minute Talk. I love the way this video seems to just keep getting better. My favorite part has to be the last half, and the last 2-3 minutes I didn't even mention but I agree with wholeheartedly.
It's so timely for me to post this because:


I don't know exactly how a motherfucker is overwhelmed, but let me tell you, it is very much so.
And it's all because there is so much damn choice.
I have to do that interview MikeDiva agreed to
First I have to settle on a design for Technicolor Typecast
Should we immunize our baby? 
Does anyone need their computer fixed?
When should we schedule our vet appointments? 
I still need to sell that stuff on Ebay...
There is just an endless list going through my mind, and unlike a cell phone or a laptop, I can't turn it off or leave it at home.
What makes our family awesome -
the unschooling,
the working at home,
the simplifying/decluttering/minimizing
the attempt to go relatively moneyless -
can also lead to a paralyzing freedom of choice if you don't have things in order somehow.
You've got to find a way to focus on what's important.
Because when you lose your focus, life can feel like chaos.
Out of chaos comes order.
Hopefully that order becomes apparent soon, before my fucking head explodes.


  1. I love that the secret to happiness is low expectation....i've had low expectations my whole life lol

  2. That actually makes a lot of sense. Can't you be confident in your choices though? At least I try to be, and then I just live with my mistakes. Making a calculated decision/risk does not amount to a bad decision even if it did end up being bad..

    Unrelated Randomness

  3. very interesting read, and the thing about expectations is so true.

  4. that was very interesting and true

  5. This is some heavy shit, woman!

  6. Great post. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. secret to happiness low expectations? BS!

    Confidence in choices made though...there is knowledge in that

  8. Low expectations has brought me happiness on occasion, so I agree with that sentiment =3

    I tried to watch the video, but that Barry is a douche =3

  9. very interesting, thanks for sharing

  10. I like the bit about low expectations. Happiness is a choice