The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

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My Rating: 8/10
Published or Updated On: 
November 6, 2022

Big Picture Thoughts

This book rambles at times but the core idea is solid gold. I found this whole concept important enough to make one of my 2022 goals “Satisfice on all decisions except the highest leverage ones”.

The Main Ideas

Summary Notes

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better. In particular, increased choice among goods and services may contribute little or nothing to the kind of freedom that counts.

I believe that we make the most of our freedoms by learning to make good choices about the things that matter, while at the same time unburdening ourselves from too much concern about the things that don’t.

Note: Wisdom

If you seek and accept only the best, you are a maximizer.

Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. Yet how can anyone truly know that any given option is absolutely the best possible? The only way to know is to check out all the alternatives.

As a decision strategy, maximizing creates a daunting task, which becomes all the more daunting as the number of options increases.

The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better. A satisficer has criteria and standards. She searches until she finds an item that meets those standards, and at that point, she stops.

Of course no one is an absolute maximizer.

The key point is that maximizers aspire to achieve that goal. Thus, they spend a great deal of time and effort on the search, reading labels, checking out consumer magazines, and trying new products.

In the end, they are likely to get less satisfaction out of the exquisite choices they make than will satisficers.

The difference between the two types is that the satisficer is content with the merely excellent as opposed to the absolute best.

While maximizers and perfectionists both have very high standards, I think that perfectionists have very high standards that they don’t expect to meet, whereas maximizers have very high standards that they do expect to meet.

The truth is that maximizing and satisficing orientations tend to be “domain specific.” Nobody is a maximizer in every decision, and probably everybody is in some. Perhaps what distinguishes maximizers from satisficers is the range and number of decisions in which an individual operates as one or the other.

CHAPTER ELEVEN What to Do About Choice

  1. Choose When to Choose

The key thing to appreciate, though, is that what is most important to us, most of the time, is not the objective results of decisions, but the subjective results. If the ability to choose enables you to get a better car, house, job, vacation, or coffeemaker, but the process of choice makes you feel worse about what you’ve chosen, you really haven’t gained anything from the opportunity to choose. And much of the time, better objective results and worse subjective results are exactly what our overabundance of options provides.

Note: Interesting. Home buying.

To manage the problem of excessive choice, we must decide which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting many other opportunities pass us by.

For example, you could make it a rule to visit no more than two stores when shopping for clothing or to consider no more than two locations when planning a vacation.

  1. Be a Chooser, Not a Picker

CHOOSERS ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO REFLECT ON WHAT MAKES a decision important, on whether, perhaps, none of the options should be chosen, on whether a new option should be created,

“pickers,” which is to say, relatively passive selectors from whatever is available. Being a chooser is better, but to have the time to choose more and pick less, we must be willing to rely on habits, customs, norms, and rules to make some decisions automatic.

  1. Satisfice More and Maximize Less


The trick is to learn to embrace and appreciate satisficing, to cultivate it in more and more aspects of life, rather than merely being resigned to it. Becoming a conscious, intentional satisficer makes comparison with how other people are doing less important.

Note: Key

defined standards for what is “good enough” whenever you face a decision.

Think about occasions in life when you settle, comfortably, for “good enough”; Scrutinize how you choose in those areas; Then apply that strategy more broadly.

  1. Think About the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs

we should make an effort to limit how much we think about the attractive features of options we reject.

There are some strategies you can use to help you avoid the disappointment that comes from thinking about opportunity costs: Unless you’re truly dissatisfied, stick with what you always buy. Don’t be tempted by “new and improved.” Don’t “scratch” unless there’s an “itch.” And don’t worry that if you do this, you’ll miss out on all the new things the world has to offer.

  1. Make Your Decisions Nonreversible

When a decision is final, we engage in a variety of psychological processes that enhance our feelings about the choice we made relative to the alternatives. If a decision is reversible, we don’t engage these processes to the same degree.

But finding a life partner is not a matter of comparison shopping and “trading up.” The only way to find happiness and stability in the presence of seemingly attractive and tempting options is to say, “I’m simply not going there. I’ve made my decision about a life partner,

  1. Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”

OUR EVALUATION OF OUR CHOICES IS PROFOUNDLY AFFECTED BY what we compare them with, including comparisons with alternatives that exist only in our imaginations.

Which of these we focus on may determine whether we judge the experience to be satisfactory or not.

  1. Anticipate Adaptation

WE ADAPT TO ALMOST EVERYTHING WE EXPERIENCE WITH ANY regularity. When life is hard, adaptation enables us to avoid the full brunt of the hardship. But when life is good, adaptation puts us on a “hedonic treadmill,” robbing us of the full measure of satisfaction we expect from each positive experience. We can’t prevent adaptation.

Our challenge is to remember that the high-quality sound system, the luxury car, and the ten-thousand-square-foot house won’t keep providing the pleasure they give when we first experience them.

Remind yourself of how good things actually are instead of focusing on how they’re less good than they were at first.

  1. Control Expectations

OUR EVALUATION OF EXPERIENCE IS SUBSTANTIALLY INFLUENCED BY how it compares with our expectations. So what may be the easiest route to increasing satisfaction with the results of decisions is to remove excessively high expectations about them.

So to make the task of lowering expectations easier: Reduce the number of options you consider. Be a satisficer rather than a maximizer. Allow for serendipity.

  1. Curtail Social Comparison

social comparison seems sufficiently destructive to our sense of well-being that it is worthwhile to remind ourselves to do it less.

So: Remember that “He who dies with the most toys wins” is a bumper sticker, not wisdom. Focus on what makes you happy, and what gives meaning to your life.

  1. Learn to Love Constraints

we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining.

Note: Key

By deciding to follow a rule (for example, always wear a seat belt; never drink more than two glasses of wine in one evening), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.

Note: Great

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