Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
A recent series of study, titled “When Choice is Demotivating,” provide the evidence. One study was set in a gourmet food store and upscale community where, on weekends, the owners commonly set up tables of new items. When researchers set up a display featuring a line of exotic, high quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study six varieties a jam more available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase.
The larger array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average. When it came time to buying, however, a huge difference became evident. 30% of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3% of those exposed to large array of jams did so.
In a second study, this time in the laboratory, college students were asked to value a variety of gourmet chocolates, and the guise of a marketing survey. The students were then asked which chocolate - based on description and appearance - would they choose for themselves. Then they tasted and rated that chocolate. Finally, in a different room, the students were offered a small box of chocolates in lieu of cash as payment for their participation. For one group of students, the initial array of chocolates numbered 6 and for the other, it numbered 30. The key results of this study were that the students faced with the small array were more satisfied with their tasting than those faced with the large array. In addition, they were four times as likely to choose chocolate rather than cash as compensation for their participation.
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experience felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended. This “peak-end” rule of Kahneman’s is what we used to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves of how the experience felt. The summaries in turn influenced our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasted, have almost no influence on her memory of it.
Here’s an example. Participants in a laboratory study were asked to listen to a pair of very loud, unpleasant noises played through headphones. One noise lasted for eight seconds. The other lasted 16. The first eight seconds of the second noise were identical to the first noise,whereas the second eight seconds, while still allowed an unpleasant, were not as loud. Later, the participants were told that they would have to listen to one of the noises again, but that they could choose which one. Clearly the second noise is worse - the unpleasant as it lasted twice as long. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of people chose the second to be repeated. Why? Because whereas both noises were unpleasant and had the had same aversive peak, the second had a less unpleasant and, and sewers remembered as less annoying than the first.
Most people find it extremely challenging to balance the conflicting impulses of freedom of choice on one hand and the loyalty and commitment on the other. Each person is expected to figure out this balance individually. Those who value freedom of choice and movement will tend to stay away from entangling relationship; those who value stability and loyalty will seek them. Many will cobble together some mixture of these two modes of social engagement. If we fail in establishing exactly the kinds of social relations we want, you’ll feel that we have only ourselves to blame. And many times we will fail.
Social institutions could ease the burden on individuals by establishing constraints that, while open to transformation, could not be violated willy-nilly by each person as he chooses. With a clearer “rules of the game” for us to live by -- constraints that specify how much of life each of us should devote to ourselves and what are obligations to family, friends, and community should be – much of the onus for making these decisions would be lifted.
But the price of excepting constraints imposed by social institutions is a restriction on individual freedom. Is it a price worth paying? A society that allows us to answer this question individually as Artie given us an answer,four by giving people the choice, and is opted for freedom. And a society that does not allow us to answer this question individually has also given us an answer, opting for constraints but if unrestricted freedom can impede the individual’s pursuit of what he or she values most, then it may be that some restrictions make everybody better off. And if “constraint” sometimes affords a different kind of liberation while “freedom” affords a kind of enslavement, then people would be wise to seek out some measure of appropriate constraint.
What to do about choice?
1. Choose when to choose.
To manage the problem of excessive choice, we must decide on which choices in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there, letting other opportunities pass us by. But by restricting our options, we will be able to choose less and feel better….
2. Be a chooser, not a picker.
Choosers have the time to modify their goals; pickers do not. Choosers have the time to avoid following the herd; pickers do not. Good decisions take time and attention, and the only way we can find the needed time and attention is by choosing our spots….
3. Satisfice more and maximize less.
Learning to accept "good enough" will simplify decision-making and increase satisfaction. Though satisficers may often do less well than maximizer's according to certain objective standards, nonetheless, by settling for "good enough" even when the “best" could be just around the corner, satisficers will usually feel better about the decisions they make.
4. Think about the opportunity costs of opportunity costs.
Given that thinking about the attractiveness of unchosen options will always detract from the satisfaction derived from the chosen one, it is tempting to suggest that we forget about opportunity costs altogether, but often it is difficult or impossible to judge how good an option is except a relation to other options. What defines a "good investment," for example, is to a large degree at a rate of return in comparison with other investments. There is no obvious absolute standard that we can appeal to, so some amount of reflection of opportunity cost is probably essential.
5. Make your decisions nonreversible.
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 so this person's empathy or that person's looks really have nothing to do with me. I'm not in the market -- and the story."
6. Practice and "attitude of gratitude"
The research literature suggests that gratitude does not come naturally to most of us most of the time. Usually, thinking about possible alternatives is triggered by dissatisfaction with what was chosen. When life is not too good, we think a lot about how it could be better. When life is going well, we tend not to think much about how it can be worse. But with practice, we can learn to reflect on how much better things are then they might be, which will in turn make a good things in life yield even better.
7. Regret less.
The stinging of regret (either actual or potential) colors many decisions, and sometimes influences us to avoid making decisions at all. Although regret is often appropriate and instructive, when it becomes so pronounce that poisons or even prevents decisions we should make an effort to minimize it....
It also pays to remember just how complex life is and to realize how rare it is that any single decision, in and of itself, has a life transforming power we sometimes think.
8. Anticipate anticipation.
When life is hard, adaptation and enables us to avoid the full brunt of hardship. But when life is good, adaptation puts us on a "he done in treadmill," robbing us of the full measure of satisfaction we expect from each positive experience. We can prevent adaptation. What we can do is develop realistic expectations about how our experiences change with time. Our challenge is to remember that the high-quality sound system, the luxury car, and the 10,000-square-foot house won't keep providing the pleasure they give us with first experience them. Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into mere comforts will ease disappointment with adaptation when it occurs. We can also reduce disappointment from adaptation by following the satisficer’s strategy of spending less time and energy researching and agonizing over decisions.
9. 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. This is easier said than done, especially in a world that encourages high expectations and offers so many choices that it seems only reasonable to believe that some option out there will be perfect.
10. Curtail social comparison
We lead the quality of our experiences by comparing ourselves to others. The social comparison can provide useful information, it often reduces our satisfaction. So by comparing ourselves to others last, we will be satisfied more. "Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing" is easy advice to give, but harder device to follow, because the evidence of how others are doing is pervasive, because most of us seem to care a great deal about status, and finally, because access to some of the most important things in life (for example, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best houses in the best neighborhoods) is granted only to those who do better than their peers. Nonetheless, social comparison seems a sufficiently destructive core sense of well-being that it is worthwhile to remind ourselves to do it less. Because it is easier for a satisficer to avoid social comparison than for foreign maximizer, learning that "good enough" is good enough may automatically reduce concerned with how others are doing.
11. Learn to love constraints
Routine decisions take so much time and attention that it becomes difficult to get through the day. In circumstances like this, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining. Society provides rules, standards, and norms for making choices, and individual experience creates habits. By deciding to follow rule (for example, always wear a seatbelt; 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 they can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.