One-Minute Book Reviews

June 30, 2008

‘The Paradox of Choice’ – Can Having Too Many Choices Make You Unhappy? — Quote of the Day (Barry Schwartz via Jim Sollisch)

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:34 am
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Does having too many choices make us less happy? Jim Sollisch had an interesting comment on Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (HarperPerennial, 2005) in an op-ed page piece in the Wall Street Journal

“Barry Schwartz, a social scientist at Swarthmore, makes the case in his book The Paradox of Choice that that unlimited choice produces genuine suffering. The more choices we have to make, the less certainty we seem to have. When we have 285 kinds of cookies to choose from in the grocery store, how can we be sure we’ve picked the right one? And that’s just cookies. When faced with seemingly unlimited choices that have significant consequences like which stocks to invest in, which career to pursue or even which person to marry, many people become what Professor Schwartz calls ‘maximizers’: people who relentlessly search for the best option. These people spend a great deal of time and energy on choices that will never satisfy them.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh,that’s really a point.I am happy that I live in Norway.Here we have not so big supermarkets and a limited choice of quality wares and it is not as difficult as it is go to stores in big places.As far as the other things in life are concerned we should learn to make a choice and keep it.

    Comment by faizaabi — June 30, 2008 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

  2. The Paradox of Choice? A better book would have been something about what happens to human happiness when there are fewer or no choices. This man’s research may only serve to reveal how weak our intellects have become. Perhaps we are unable to utilize critical thinking to determine what we want and to want it after we get it.

    Comment by Daniel — June 30, 2008 @ 12:52 pm | Reply

  3. Faizabbi: I’ve had thoughts similar to yours while visiting Scotland, where the situation seems similar. Thanks for making the good point that not all cultures see a vast number of choices as essential or even desirable.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 30, 2008 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  4. The grocery store metaphor is apt. My mother moved to the States from Harare (Zimbabwe) in 1970, and I remember her telling me when I was a kid that she was utterly overwhelmed by all the different choices at the supermarket, and that it was stressful and time consuming to have to decide what type and brand of food to buy, whereas before, her choice was limited to “bread” or “no bread”. Extrapolate this issue to every facet of society, and it can get overwhelming.

    Comment by sarahsk — June 30, 2008 @ 5:09 pm | Reply

  5. Even moving from a small town to New York can have a similar effect, just not as extreme.

    I’ve though about this post a lot as it relates to bookstores. Part of why people love independent bookstores may be that their owners make some of the choices for us, which can be a big relief.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 30, 2008 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  6. This is a question I’ve thought about a fair bit. Ours is perhaps the first society in history to ever be faced with this apparent problem. I’ve come to believe that the less you understand what it is you truly want, the more it is that choice frustrates you.

    Comment by nategosse — August 20, 2008 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  7. Re: “The less you understand what it is you truly want, the more it is that choice frustrates you” — that sounds exactly right to me.

    I also agree that ours may be the first society to have this problem. But some very wealthy subcultures of our society and others may have had the problem in the past. For example, the anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the richest Hollywood celebrities have always been desperately unhappy. Could it be because they they know they can have anything they want?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — August 21, 2008 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

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