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  • Rajmeet Singh Arora

3 Reasons why more choices equals less happiness | The paradox of choice | Barry Schwartz

An old Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz (Jan 16, 2008) brought me to a mind-opening realization about how more choices makes us more miserable.

The talk starts with Berry discussing about the Official Dogma. He states that the Official Dogma, which has been a norm in western & industrial societies is that more freedom = more choice = more welfare.

Then he goes about giving us different examples of before-after scenarios of how things have changed and what are the consequences of it:

1. Shopping in the supermarket: (Back in 2008) 285 varieties of cookies, 175 Salad Dressings, 230 Soups, etc. Which today in 2020 is anything but less than that.

2. Buying a phone: As we see smart phones getting more and more sophisticated, reaching at par performances with personal computers, it is difficult to find a phone that doesn't do a lot of stuff. If you want a phone today, you get with it a camera, a calculator, a messenger, and if has access to the Internet, well the sky is the limit.

3. Healthcare: When you go to a Doctor for a medical condition, the Doctor tells you that we can either do A or B. A has these benefits and risks. B has these benefits and risks. What do you want to do? You ask the doctor, "Doc, what should I do?" Doc says, "A has these benefits and risks and B has these benefits and risks, what do you want to do?" You say, "If you were me doc what would you do?" And the Doc says, "But I am not you." This is Patient Autonomy: The right of patients to make decisions about their medical care without their health care provider trying to influence the decision. Patient autonomy does allow for health care providers to educate the patient but does not allow the health care provider to make the decision for the patient. This is very good if we consider the Official Dogma to be true. But it is not. What it does is it shifts the burden of decision making from someone who is educated, the doctor in this case, to someone who is not, that is You, and is also probably sick, to make matters worse.

Adding options to people's lives can't help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that's going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they're good results.

3 Reasons why more choices equals less happiness:

- When we have a lot of options to make a choice from, it is easier to imagine that you could have made a choice that would have been better. This imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision.

- The way we value things depends on what we compare them to. When there are a lot of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of the alternatives you reject that make you less satisfied with the alternative you've chosen.

- Escalation of expectations: When there was only one kind of jeans available to wear, it had a terrible fit, it was uncomfortable. But after struggling with it for a while and a few washes, it would eventually start to get comfortable. Now when you go to buy a pair of jeans you have 50 options to choose from: slim-fit, easy fit relax fit, button fly or zipper fly, stone-washed or acid-washed? This does give you a lot of options to choose from. And when after a lot of thinking through your decision, you end up picking the best jeans for you, you are still miserable. This is because with so many options available, your expectation of what a pair of jeans should be went up. The reason for this is because earlier when there was only one kind of jeans available, it was clear who it is to blame: THE WORLD. It had got nothing to do. But, the slightest of dissatisfaction with the pair of jeans you bought makes it very clear that YOU are to BLAME. Because YOU could have done better. You could have made a better choice. How could you manage to not get "the perfect jeans" for you from 100 different types of jeans? Thus making us more miserable than we were before.

Everything was better when everything was worse.

The reason is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise. Now-a-days, with perfection the expectation, the best you can hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be.

The secret to happiness is: LOW EXPECTATIONS

Watch the full Ted Talk here:

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