The official dogma in the West is to maximize well-being and freedom, and the way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. This is so deeply embedded in our society that wouldn't occur to anyone to question it. In the past, there were some choices, but not everything was a matter of choice. In the world we live now, we have lots of choices. And the question is, is this good news or bad news? And the answer is yes. We all know what's good about it, in this book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about what's bad about it. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all, because you don't want to pick the wrong option. And even if we manage to overcome this and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. In this video, I'll share with you four reasons why more is less and how more options can lead to less satisfaction.
Reason 1: Higher regret
With lots of options to choose from, it's easy to imagine that you could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better. And what happens is that 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 more options there are, it is easier to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you choose.
Reason #2: Higher opportunity costs
When there are lots of alternatives to consider, It is easy to imagine the attractive features of other options, and that makes you less satisfied with the option that you’ve chosen. This reminds me of the story of a couple from Manhattan, New York, who go to a gorgeous beach for a vacation. It's a sunny day. What could be better? Well, damn it. This guy is thinking “it's August. Everybody in Manhattan is away. I could be parking right in front of my building.” And he spends the whole vacation nagged by the idea that he is missing the opportunity to have a great parking space. Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction that we get out of what we choose, even if what we choose is very good. Whenever you are choosing one thing, you choose not to do other things. And those other things may have lots of attractive features and it is going to make what you are doing less attractive.
Reason #3: Escalation of expectations
If there are so many options available to choose from, our expectations go up because we think maybe one of the options would be perfect for me. And even if what you get is good but not perfect, you compare what you got to what you expected. And with more choices, what you get is disappointing in comparison to what you expected. Adding options can't help but increase the expectations about how good those options would be, and that is going to produce less satisfaction with results even when they are good results. The truth is more like this. The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse is was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise. Nowadays, our expectations are so high that the best we can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as we expect it to be.
Reason #4: Self-blame
When there are few options to choose from and you are dissatisfied with what you choose and you ask why, who is responsible? The answer is clear. The world is responsible. But when there are lots of options available and you choose one that is disappointing and you ask why who is responsible? It is clear that the answer to that question is you. You could’ve done better. You could’ve made a better choice. So you blame yourself. And this clearly reduces the satisfaction that comes from your choice.
This is the official dogma, the one we all take to be true and it's all false, it's not true. It is no question that some choice is better than none. But it doesn't follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. When you see this, you may think, what does this fish know? Nothing is possible in this fishbowl. But if you dig deeper, you'll realize that this fish actually knows something. Because the truth of the matter is that if we shatter the fishbowl so that anything is possible, you don't have freedom, you have paralysis, you decrease satisfaction. Everybody needs a fishbowl. This one is almost certainly too limited, perhaps even for the fish, certainly for us. But the absence of some metaphorical fishbowl is a recipe for misery and disaster.