The Paradox of Choice review

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less is my latest read. The main thesis is that we have way more choice than we used to, and at some point this becomes a bad thing.

One famous study involves an “exotic, high-quality” jam display at an upscale supermarket. In one version, there were all 24 flavors available for sampling and purchase; in another, only 6 flavors were available for sampling (but all 24 were still available for purchase). The higher number of jams attracted more people to the display, although people tried the same number of jams on average. But 30 percent of the people that sampled from the small selection of jams bought a jar, while only 3 percent of those that sampled from the large selection bought a jar.

This is something that sounds crazy at first, but when I picture myself in the two situations it makes total sense. If I see there are 24 flavors but only 6 out on display, I would assume that these are the best flavors and I can limit my choice to just them, as opposed to trying some random subset of the 24.

A lot of the book is about limiting the things you have to choose from. He talks about maximizers (who will try every choice then pick the best one) versus satisficers (who will decide what is “good enough”, then pick the first choice that meets that). As you might expect, satisficers tend to be happier, and it’s a good way to deal with many many choices, considering that your time and effort in making a choice is not free. This is essentially a “second-order decision” to limit your choices.

Another tidbit: when a choice is reversible (e.g. you have the option of returning something you’ve bought) people tend to be less happy, because then they have the option (another choice!) to change their mind. When you’re committed to something you tend to like it more.

Another bit I liked was about “hedonistic adaptation”. When you get something nice, you’re happier at first, but once you’re used to it your happiness reverts to whatever it was before (more or less). To combat this, the author recommends developing an “attitude of gratitude” – thinking about the things that are good in your life and comparing them to what you had before. This helps because the natural tendency for people is to always look at the nice things that they don’t have.

To wrap-up: it was an interesting book although a bit repetitive (it shared a few discussions with the ice cream book). I would recommend it, and it’s available for borrowing (physical media ftw!)

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