Last semester, I noticed something particularly odd. Students I know that had received multiple internship offers at top companies were less happy than students that had only received one. Being an economics major this threw me off. The more choices and opportunities someone has the better off they are supposing to be. This is the fundamental principal of the world. The more choices someone has the more freedom they have. The more freedom someone has the better off they are.
But then, I began to think about my hatred of grocery shopping and how I prefer to shop at Trader Joe’s compared to regular grocery stores. Trader Joe’s has relatively fewer options and is far less overwhelming of an experience that leaves me more satisfied. This got me thinking about whether or not having more choices is actually a good thing.
I recently came across a Ted Talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz titled The Paradox of Choice that has begun clearing the air on this contradiction for me. Interestingly enough, he uses grocery stores as an example in his talk to introduce this idea. He mentions that in his grocery store there are nearly 200 choices of salad dressings offered. This great number of choice actually causes less happiness than a few options – not only is it more time consuming and stressful to choose but after the fact it can cause regret if it is not exactly what he wanted.
Having too many choices can cause a variety of different negative effects on our lives. The first is choice paralysis. When faced with too many choices people are prone to avoid the decision entirely. People with 10 choices on which mutual fund to use for company pension matching opt in less to the program than people with 5 choices even though any choice has a positive impact. Additionally, people can be less satisfied with their decisions because if it is not 100% perfect it is easy to imagine there could have been a better alternative they could have chosen.
It all comes down to the idea that if there is only one option and it’s bad it’s the worlds fault but if there are many options and the one you choose is bad it’s your fault. In the context of today’s world with an increasing number of choices, to be happy even when in a positive situation with multiple great choices Schwartz advises us to not be afraid to make a decision and when we do make a decision to never set our expectations too high.
View Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice#t-1094554