Does unlimited choice make us miserable?

The answer just might be: yes! I´m really looking forward to the next onsite meeting with my 2013/14 fellow MAPP students. One of the guest lecturers will be Barry Schwartz, author of Paradox of Choice. While it is true that having no choice at all makes us impassive and miserable, the other end of the continuum might just be as harmful. In his book, Schwartz argues that having to choose from seemingly unlimited options (think of the variety of cereals in a typical supermarket, or sujects to study, or partners to date) could account for the sharp increase in cases of clinical depression in the western world (especially the U.S.). The explanation:

  • Choosing from more options requires more ‘mental energy’.
  • More options typically also means there are more attractive options, but with different features. Having to make trade-offs makes us unhappy.
  • More options lead to higher opportunity costs after having chosen something in the end.
  • More options lead to higher levels of regret – when the choice has turned out to be wrong.
  • There even exists pre-decision regret – a kind of prospection on how it might feel to have made a wrong choice.
  • More attractive options lead to having higher standards – which in turn leads to liking our choices to a lesser extent.
  • Unlimited choice cultivates a culture of personal responsibility which in turn promotes blaming ourselves for the results.

All this may not be very healthy after all. No time for reading? Just watch Barry´s TED Talk.

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