The Paradox of Choice

Monica Perez

In our consumer society we like having a variety of options to choose from when picking things, whether it be salad dressing, shoes, or cars. Having different options allows us to pick things that are more personalized to our individual needs and identity and we tend to think of more choice as better. We like to communicate and connect with each other through the things we purchase and having more choice allows us to select more fitting options. But have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of options available to you? Barry Schwartz argues that more choice actually makes us more unhappy and dissatisfied. This is what he calls the paradox of choice.

In our society we seek to maximize welfare, to do this we maximize freedom. To maximize freedom we seek to create more choice because more choice means more freedom therefore creating more welfare. Schwartz argues that this equating of choice with welfare is the flaw in our thinking. Choice is good, but only to a certain extent and in our society we have gone well past the point of good choice.

Too much choice can cause paralysis and anxiety. There is so much pressure to choose the best option and it’s hard to decide what the best option is when there are so many options that sometimes it prevents people from choosing at all. There is also a lot of anxiety when it comes to picking between so many options. People get nervous about making the wrong choice and also worry about what they are foregoing. In turn these thoughts about missing out makes people less satisfied with the option they choose, even if the option they chose was a good one.

This continuous discontentment can contribute to depression and self-blame. When there are so many options to choose from and you feel as if you haven’t made the best choice, the only person to blame is yourself. So what’s the solution? According to Schwartz the key to happiness is low expectations. If you don’t expect perfection then you won’t be unhappy when you don’t get it; and having a less overwhelming amount of options would also probably be helpful.




  1. katielowell

    I posted this Ted Talk in response to one of ‘skeptykal’s’ posts a while back!

  2. shin1505

    Interesting idea, though I am not sure if low expectations are the key to happiness as much having expectations on the rights things are the key to happiness. The choice paradox makes sense, people get stressed out or confused over their multitude of daily choices. If I go to a restaurant with friends, open a menu, and it looks like there’s 20 million choices, I freak a little. However, is choosing the right meal going to really make me happy? Or is it the time that I’m spending with friends in said restaurant? I think that people in general put expectations on things that will simply not make them happy. I would argue that we need to refocus our attention on what will really makes our lives worthwhile. Forget daily choice, think about the things/moments that made you the happiest, then put yourself in the position to have more of those moments, expect to live your life, and happiness will come to you.

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