As Americans, 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 us to seek that which makes us feel worse.
By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counter intuitive 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 those that are important and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.
Today most of us are awash with choices. The cornucopia of material goods available to those of us in the developed world can turn each of us into a kid in a candy store; but our delight at picking the prize is undercut by our regret at lost opportunities. And what's the criterion for choosing anything—material, spiritual, the path taken or not taken—when we have lost our faith in everything? In The Era of Choice Edward Rosenthal argues that choice, and having to make choices, has become the most important influence in both our personal lives and our cultural expression. Choice, he claims, has transformed how we live, how we think, and who we are.
This transformation began in the nineteenth century, catalyzed by the growing prosperity of the Industrial Age and a diminishing faith in moral and scientific absolutes. The multiplicity of choices forces us to form oppositions; this, says Rosenthal, has spawned a keen interest in dualism, dilemmas, contradictions, and paradoxes. In response, we have developed mechanisms to hedge, compromise, and to synthesize. Rosenthal looks at the scientific and philosophical theories and cultural movements that choice has influenced—from physics (for example, Niels Bohr's theory that light is both particle and wave) to postmodernism, from Disney trailers to multiculturalism. He also reveals the effect of choice on the personal level, where we grapple with decisions that range from which wine to have with dinner to whether to marry or divorce, as we hurtle through lives of instant gratification, accelerated consumption, trend, change, and speed. But we have discovered, writes Rosenthal, that sometimes, we can have our cake and eat it, too.