Shoshana, July 18, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
Schwartz contends that while having choices is valuable, more choices don't appear to lead to greater happiness, and may be psychologically detrimental. I enjoyed his arguments, which are closely associated with sociological and psychological studies, and recommend reading this book in conjunction with Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking or The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, or even Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.
Though I agree with the conclusions drawn, in general, Schwartz's arguments seem reductive at times, and without seeing the studies themselves I can't evaluate whether other elements that may be important have been accounted for. Thus, choices are often presented as all-or-nothing, and research participants' pragmatic economic decision-making seems to be overlooked. For example, in studies where a sure bet of receiving $100 is set in opposition to a slightly better-weighted double-or-nothing option, participants' more common choice of $100 is not discussed in relativistic terms (such as would be familiar to readers of Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg) that include the participant's pragmatic life experience of needing to take a safe bet rather than a risky one with the potential for more gain but that might also cause loss.
In addition, those for whom the process of shopping or questing is enjoyable, and those who approach such activities with mindfulness and attention, are not well-represented in Schwartz's argument. Schwartz does allude to a related issue when he notes the possibility of history and cohort effects (though he doesn't say it that way); what is overwhelming for one generation (such as a cell phone) may be par for the course for the next (such as watching a video on an iPhone while texting about something else and pretending to be paying attention in class).
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Renee, February 28, 2007 (view all comments by Renee)
As soon as I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. Schwartz's premise is exactly what I have come to suspect: as our society presents us with more and more choices for everything from jeans to careers, we become increasingly anxious and dissatisfied with the choices we make. We are often paralyzed by the number of choices available and end up making no choices at all. I can absolutely, totally relate to that premise. I feel like that all the time.
Schwartz’s points are logical, clear, and interesting. The concept of “maximizing”—always wanting to go with the absolute “best” choice available, versus “satisficing”—going with the “good enough” choice, is central to his discussion. He also delves into issues of regret, opportunity cost, comparisons, and the root of happiness, and how they all relate to how we make choices and react to choices we’ve already made.
Schwartz spends most of the book—ten of its eleven chapters—presenting evidence for the psychological and societal causes of this phenomenon, and only one chapter giving suggestions for what we can do in our daily lives to combat it. Not that the ten chapters aren’t interesting, clear, well-written and supported. But it did start to feel a little like preaching to the choir, and all I wanted really was for him to tell me what to do.
All in all, however, it was fascinating read.
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by Publishers Weekly,
"[T]o the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate."
by Library Journal,
"[F]ascinating....The book is well researched and authoritative yet written in a style that makes it accessible."
"Despite a tendency toward highfalutin language...Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say here about the perils of everyday life."
In the spirit of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, Schwartz's work is a "brilliant" (Christian Science Monitor) and "persuasive" (Business Week) social critique of people's obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction, and regret.
In the spirit of Alvin Toffler s Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.
Whether we re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.
We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.
In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages usto seek that which makes us feel worse.
By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.
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