July 2005 | Click here to watch the TED talk
We tend to associate happiness to freedom and define freedom as the possibility to choose unrestrictively. Therefore, the more choices we can make the more free and happy we are.
Because our brain was built for another era were we didn’t have a lot of choices (we ate what we had, we slept were we could, we lived with the people from our tribe/village, etc), it’s not prepared to handle that many choices.
That creates to main problems:
Too many options produce paralysis rather than liberation
How can we know which option is best if we have 2389 to choose from? Or even “just” 46 options? How can we choose when there’re so many options that we don’t even know about all of them? What if there’s an option I don’t even know it exists?
As it’s easy to see, in most cases, having too many options makes choosing an epic task which is overwhelming for most of us and we end up not doing anything instead of feeling free.
In other words, when we’re free to choose anything we want, we can become prisoners of choice.
We end up less satisfied when we have many options than when we just have one
There are 4 reasons for that:
Regret and Anticipated Regret
If we don’t like the choice that we’ve made it’s easy to imagine how another choice would’ve been better. This imaginary alternative induces us to regret the decision we’ve made and these regrets detract us from our satisfaction even if it was a good decision.
The more options we have the easier it is to regret not having chosen one of them.
When we’re choosing one thing, we’re choosing not to do other things that may have lots of attractive features and that’s going to make what we’re doing less attractive.
Escalation of expectations
When there’re a lot of choices, we expect to find the perfect option for us. Probably, there’s going to be a great option for us but rarely it’ll be perfect, so we end up more disappointed than if we had no choice at all.
EXAMPLE: Buying jeans.
Some years ago, there was only one kind of jeans, they were horrible but that’s what you had. Now there are thousands of jeans, so you expect to find the perfect ones for you, and if you just find some good ones -even though they’re much better than the old ones- you feel disappointed because you compare what you’ve got with what you expected.
Years ago it was easy to be surprised and therefore pleased. Nowadays we expect perfection, so there’s no room for surprise, and we feel more unhappy.
Who’s responsible for the lives we live?
When there are no options the blame goes to the world, to the fact that there are no more options, to the quality of what we’ve got.
When there are a lot of options the blame usually goes to ourselves because we could have chosen another option.This can be tough because we tend to think that we’re capable of precisely predicting the outcome of a decision, which is usually far from the truth.
Some choice is definitely better than none, but more choice is not better than some.
The secret to happiness is low expectationsBarry Schwartz
Click here to go to TED’s website or watch the talk down here:
The talk is based on Barry Schwartz’s own book also called The Paradox of Choice. Click here to check it on GoodReads.com