Thursday, July 21, 2011

Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

It's an interesting, thought-provoking talk, but I think the key that Schwartz misses is not that we have too many choices, but that we seem to treat all of these choices as equal (as he does). There's a big difference between choosing a salad dressing, which shouldn't take more than a couple of seconds, and choosing whether or not to get married, or which job offer to take.

In short, the problem lies not with the number of choices we face, but in our management of those choices, and our tendency to micromanage our own lives. After all, if you pick a salad dressing that you find you don't like, it's not the end of the world - just throw it out, and try another brand or flavour the next time you're at the supermarket.

Focus on what's significant, and filter out what's not... or, in other words, don't sweat the small stuff.

Paul Kimball

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