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The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Psychology, choice

Ten years have passed since the publication of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, a highly influential book written by the psychologist Barry Schwartz. If the title doesn’t sound familiar, the idea behind Schwartz’s argument should: Instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. Whether you’re deliberating between breakfast cereals, TV shows, career paths, pension plans, or lifetime partners, the amount of options out there can be overwhelming. In modern America, however, the freedom to decide who you are and who you’re going to be is mandatory.

While Schwartz doesn’t claim he discovered the setbacks of excessive choice, The Paradox of Choice is perhaps our best articulation of the overall problem. In the book, for example, he explores the stress people feel when confronted with ample opportunity, and the regret that follows from choosing poorly (whose fault is it other than mine?). He also discusses our loss of presence (why am I doing this when I could be doing that?), our raised expectations (with so many options, why settle for less?), and our tarnished sense of self that comes from comparing our choices with the choices of others (why do I continue to pick the wrong things when Alex always picks the right ones?). In sum, Schwartz’s work poses a serious challenge to the notion that more choice brings about more freedom, and more freedom brings about more happiness. As the book’s subtitle implies, sometimes a lot is simply too much.

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