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Writing&Academic Inq

by: Dr. Lyda Breitenberg

Writing&Academic Inq ENGLISH 125

Dr. Lyda Breitenberg
GPA 3.63

Rachel Feder

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This 21 page Class Notes was uploaded by Dr. Lyda Breitenberg on Thursday October 29, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to ENGLISH 125 at University of Michigan taught by Rachel Feder in Fall. Since its upload, it has received 12 views. For similar materials see /class/231609/english-125-university-of-michigan in English Language&Literature at University of Michigan.

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Date Created: 10/29/15
156133 An Impn39nf of HarperCollinsPubh39shers 1 of Choice Barry Schwartz Prologue The Paradox ofChoice A Road Map BOUT SIX YEARS AGO 1 WENT TO THE GAP TO BUY A PAIR or jeans I tend to wear my jeans until they re falling apart so it had been quite a while since my last purchase A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help I want a pair of jeans 3 2 28 I said Do you want them slim fit easy t relaxed t baggy or extra baggy she replied Do you want them stonewashed acid washed or distressed Do you want them button y or zipper y Do you want them faded or regularquot I was stunned A moment or two later I sputtered out something like I just want regular jeans You know the kind that used to be the only kind It turned out she didn t know but after consulting one of her older colleagues she was able to gure out What regu lar jeans used to be and she pointed me in the right direction The trouble was that with all these options available to me now I was no longer sure that regular jeans were what I wanted Per haps the easy t or the relaxed fit would be more comfortable Hav ing already demonstrated how out of touch I was with modern fashion I persisted I went back to her and asked what difference there was between regular jeans relaxed t and easy t She re ferred me to a diagram that showed how the different cuts varied It 2 i The Paradox ofChoice didn39t help narrow the choice so I decided to try them all With a pair of jeans of each type under my arm I entered the dressing room I tried on all the pants and scrutinized myself in a mirror I asked once again for further clari cation Whereas very little was riding on my decision I was now convinced that one of these options had to be right for me and I was determined to gure it out But I couldn39t Finally I chose the easy t because relaxed lit implied that I was getting soft in the middle and needed to cover it up The jeans I chose turned out just ne but it occurred to me that day that buying a pair of pants should not be a daylong project By creating all these options the store undoubtedly had done a favor for customers with varied tastes and body types However by vastly expanding the range of choices they had also created a new prob lem that needed to be solved Before these options were available a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect t but at least pur chasing jeans was a veminute affair Now it was a complex deci sion in which I was forced to invest time energy and no small amount of selfdoubt anxiety and dread Buying jeans is a trivial matter but it suggests a much larger theme we will pursue throughout this book which is this 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 It might even be said to tyrannize Tyrannize That s a dramatic claim especially following an example about w Prologue 5 3 buying jeans But our subject is by no means limited to how we go about selecting consumer goods This book is about the choices Americans face in almost all areas of life education career friendship sex romance parenting reli gious observance There is no denying that choice improves the quality of our lives It enables us to control our destinies and to come close to getting exactly What we want out of any situation Choice is essential to autonomy which is absolutely fundamental to wellbeing Healthy people want and need to direct their own lives On the other hand the fact that some choice is good doesn t nec essarily mean that more choice is better As I will demonstrate there is a cost to having an overload of choice As a culture we are enam ored of freedom self determination and variety and we are reluc tant to give up any of our options But clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions to anxiety stress and dissatisfaction even to clinical depression Many years ago the distinguished political philosopher Isaiah Berlin made an important distinction betWeen negative libertyquot and positive liberty quot Negative liberty is freedom fromquot freedom from constraint freedom from being told what to do by others Posi tive liberty is freedom to the availability of opportunities to be the author of your life and to make it meaningful and signi cant Often these two kinds of liberty will go together If the constraints people want freedom fromquot are rigid enough they won t be able to attain freedom toquot But these two types of liberty need not always go together Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has also examined the nature and importance of freedom and autonomy and the conditions that promote it In his book Develop ment as Freedom he distinguishes the importance of choice in and of itself from the functional role it plays in our lives He suggests that 4w WWNW r 4 I The Paradox ofChoice instead of being fetishistic about freedom of choice we should ask ourselves whether it nourishes us or deprives us whether it makes us mobile or hems us in whether it enhances selfrespect or dimin ishes it and whether it enables us to participate in our communities or prevents us from doing so Freedom is essential to selfrespect public participation mobility and nourishment but not all choice enhances freedom In particular increased choice among goods and services may contribute little or nothing to the kind of freedom that counts Indeed it may impair freedom by taking time and energy we39d be better off devoting to other matters I believe that many modern Americans are feeling less and less satis ed even as their freedom of choice expands This book is intended to explain why this is so and suggest what can be done about it Which is no small matter The United States was founded on a commitment to individual freedom and autonomy with freedom of choice as a core value And yet it is my contention that we do our selves no favor when we equate liberty too directly with choice as if we necessarily increase freedom by increasing the number of options available Instead 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 don39t Foilowing that thread Part I discusses how the range of choices people face every day has increased in recent years Part II discusses how we choose and shows how dif cult and demanding it is to make wise choicestquot Choosing well is especially dif cult for those deter miane only the best choices individuals I refer to as maxi mixersquot Part III is about how and why choice can make us suffer It asks whether increased opportunities for choice actually make peo Profogue l 5 ple happier and concludes that often they do not It also identi es several psychological processes that explain why added options do not make people better off adaptation regret missed opportunities raised expectations and feelings of inadequacy in comparison with others It concludes with the suggestion that increased choice may actually contribute to the recent epidemic of clinical depression affecting much of the Western world Finally in Part IV I offer a series of recommendations for taking advantage of what is positive and avoiding what is negative in our modern freedom of choice Throughout the book you will learn about a wide range of re search ndings from psychologists economists market researchers and decision scientists all related to choice and decision making There are important lessons to be learned from this research some of them not so obvious and others even counterintuitive For exam ple I will argue that 1 We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice instead of rebelling against them 2 We would be better off seeking what was good enoughquot instead of seeking the best have you ever heard a parent say I want only the good enough for my kidsquot 3 We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions 4 We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible 5 We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing These conclusions y in the face of the conventional wisdom that the more choices people have the better off they are that the 8 l The Paradox ofChoice When We Choose Oh Richard the possibilities A WORLD OF UNUMITED CHOICE Q The New Yorker Coiieetion 2000 lack Zeigierfrom mrtoonbankiwm All Rights Reserved best way to get good results is to have very high standards and that it s always better to have a way to back out of a decision than not What I hope to Show is that the conventional wisdom is wrong at least when it comes to What satis es us in the decisions we make As I mentionedl we will examine choice overload as it affects a number of areas in human experience that are far from trivial But to build the case for what I mean by quotoverloadquot we will start at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs and work our way up We ll begin by doing some more shopping IIIIAPTEB MOE Let s Go Shopping A lay at the Supermarket CANNING THE SHELVES or MY LOCAL SUPERMARKET RECENTLY 1 found 8 5 different varieties and brands of crackers As I read the packages I discovered that some brands had sodium others didn t Some were fatfree others weren t They came in big boxes and small ones They came in normal size and bite size There were mundane saltines and exotic and expensive imports My neighborhood supermarket is not a particularly large store and yet next to the crackers were 285 varieties of cookies Among chocolate chip cookies there were 21 options Among Gold sh I don t know whether to count them as cookies or crackers there were 20 different varieties to choose from Across the aisle were juices 1 3 Sports drinks 63 box drinksquot for kids 8 5 other avors and brands of juices and 75 iced teas and adult drinks I could get these tea drinks sweetened sugar or arti cial sweetener lemoned and avored Next in the snack aisle there were 95 options in all chips taco and potato ridged and at avored and un avored salted and unsalted high fat low fat no fat pretzels and the like including a dozen varieties of Pringles Nearby was seltzer no doubt to wash 1 o l The Paradox ofChoice down the snacks Bottled water was displayed in at least 1 5 avors In the pharmaceutical aisles I found 61 varieties of suntan oil and sunblock and 80 different pain relievers aspirin acetamino phen ibuprofen 350 milligrams or 500 milligrams caplets cap sules and tablets coated or uncoated There were 40 options for toothpaste 1501ipsticks 75 eyeliners and 90 colors of nail polish from one brand alone There were 116 kinds of skin cream and 360 types of shampoo conditioner gel and mousse Next to them were 90 different cold remedies and decongestants Finally there was dental oss waxed and unwaxed avored and un avored offered in a variety of thicknesses Returning to the food shelves I could choose from among 230 soup offerings including 29 different chicken soups There were 1 6 varieties of instant mashed potatoes 75 different instant gravies 120 different pasta sauces Among the 1 75 different salad dressings were 16 Italian dressings and if none of them suited me I could Choose from 1 5 extravirgin olive oils and 42 vinegars and make my own There were 275 varieties of cereal including 24 oatmeal options and 7 Cheerios options Across the aisle were 64 different kinds of barbecue sauce and 1 75 types of tea bags Heading down the homestretch I encountered 22 types of frozen waf es And just before the checkout paper or plastic cash or credit or debit there was a salad bar that offered 55 different items This brief tour of one modest store barely suggests the bounty that lies before today39s middleclass consumer I left out the fresh fruits and vegetables organic semiorganic and regular old fertil ized and pesticized the fresh meats sh and poultry freerange organic chicken or pennedup chicken skin on or off whole or in pieces seasoned or unseasoned stuffed or empty the frozen foods the paper goods the cleaning products and on and on and on D N um eel gnu A x jwyul wouch Lnak my parent L lullBlow much rluff7 n 91 a Aumyslu with three my m L l w s ML MA gs HI if wv dry A y 1M emu cum quot a quot U is wHAT WE HAV fiat ML Lotllar af Lnng shaman a mam Lahlu of mi Cw Whammy HAPPENEMMQQQ ggg we 4 mm t m nllt way The New Yorker Collection 1999 Roz Chast from cartoonbankcom All Rights Reserved 1 2 I The Paradox ofChoice Let s Go Shopping 3 13 O A typical supermarket carries more than 30000 items That s a 2 7 different printers to go with the computers lot to choose from And more than 20000 new products hit the 110 different televisions offering high de nition flat screen shelves every year almost all of them doomed to failure varying screen sizes and features and various levels of sound Comparison shopping to get the best price adds still another quality 30 different VCRs and 50 different DVD players 20 Video cameras dimension to the array of choices so that if you were a truly careful 0 shopper you could spend the better part of a day just to select a bOX O of crackers as you worried about price avor freshness fat 85 different telephones not counting the cellular phones sodium and calories But who has the time to do this Perhaps 74 different stereo tuners 55 CDplayers 32 tape players that39s the reason consumers tend to return to the products they and 50 sets of speakers Given that these components could usually buy not even noticing 75 of the items competing for their be mixed and matched in every possible way that provided attention and their dollars Who but a professor doing research the opportunity to create 6512000 different stereo systems would even stop to consider that there are almost 300 different And if you didn t have the budget or the stomach for cookie options to choose among con guring your own stereo system there were 6 3 small Supermarkets are unusual as repositories for what are called integrated systems to choose from nondurable goodsquot goods that are quickly used and replenished So buying the wrong brand of cookies doesn t have signi cant emo Unlike supermarket products those in the electronics store tional or nancial consequences But in most other settings people don t get used up so fast If we make a mistake we either have to live are out to buy things that cost more money and that are meant to with it or return it and go through the dif cult choice process all last And here as the number of options increases the psychologi over again Also we really can t rely on habit to simplify our deci cal stakes rise accordingly sion because we don t buy stereo systems every couple of weeks and because technology changes so rapidly that chances are our last model won t exist when we go out to replace it At these prices snupplnn in Gadgets chotces begin to have serious consequences ONTINUING MY MISSION TO EXPLORE OUR RANGE OF CHOICES I left the supermarket and stepped into my local consumer elec SImnnlnu by Mail tronics store Here I discovered Y WIFE AND I RECEIVE ABOUT 20 CATALOGS A WEEK IN THE MAIL 45 different car stereo systems with 50 different speaker sets We get catalogs for clothes luggage housewares furniture to go with them kitchen appliances gourmet food athletic gear computer equip 42 different computers most of which could be customized ment linens bathroom furnishings and unusual gifts plus a few in various ways that are hard to classify These catalogs spread like a virus once 14 I The Paradox ofChoice you39re on the mailing list for one dozens of others seem to follow Buy one thing from a catalog and your name starts to spread from one mailing list to another From one month alone I have 25 cloth ing catalogs sitting on my desk Opening just one of them a sum mer catalog for women we nd 19 different styles of women s T shirts each available in 8 different colors 10 different styles of shorts each available in 8 colors 8 different styles of chinos available in 6 to 8 colors 39 7 different styles of jeans each available in 5 colors dozens of different styles of blouses and pants each available in multiple colors 39 9 different styles of thongs each available in 5 or 6 colors And then there are bathing suits 1 5 onepiece suits and among two piece suits 0 7 different styles of tops each in about 5 colors combined with 5 different styles of bottoms each in about 5 colors to give women a total of 875 different make your own twopiece possibilities SINIIIIIllIlI quotll39 KIIIIWIIIIIBE HESE DAYS A TYPICAL COLLEGE CATALOG HAS noes 1N COMMON with the one from I Crew than you might think Most liberal arts colleges and universities now embody a view that celebrates freedom of choice above all else and the modern university is a kind of intellectual shopping mall A century ago a college curriculum entailed a largely xed course of study with a principal goal of educating people in their Let s Go Shopping 15 ethical and civic traditions Education was not just about learning a discipline it was a way of raising citizens with common values and aspirations Often the capstone of a college education was a course taught by the college president a course that integrated the various elds of knowledge to which the students had been exposed But more important this course was intended to teach students how to use their college education to live a good and an ethical life both as individuals and as members of society I This is no longer the case Now there is no xed curriculum and no single course is required of all students There is no attempt to teach people how they should live for who is to say what a good life is When went to college thirtyfive years ago there were almost two years39 worth of general education requirements that all stu dents had to complete We had some choices among courses that met those requirements but they were rather narrow Almost every department had a single freshmanlevel introductory course that prepared the student for more advanced work in the department You could be fairly certain if you ran into a fellow student you didn t know that the two of you would have at least a year s worth of courses in common to discuss Today the modern institution of higher learning offers a wide array of different goods and allows even encourages students the customers to shop around until they nd what they like Individual customers are free to purchase whatever bundles of knowledge they want and the university provides whatever its cus tomers demand In some rather prestigious institutions this shoppingmall View has been carried to an extreme In the rst few weeks of classes students sample the merchandise They go to a class stay ten minutes to see what the professor is like then walk out often in the middle of the professor s sentence to try another class Students come and go in and out of classes just as browsers go 18 t The Paradox of Choice in and out of stores in a mall You ve got ten minutes the students seem to be saying to show me what you ve got So give it your best shot About twenty years ago somewhat dismayed that their students no longer shared enough common intellectual experiences the Harvard faculty revised its general education requirements to form a core curriculumquot Students now take at least one course in each of seven different broad areas of inquiry Among those areas there are a total of about 220 courses from which to choose Foreign Culturesquot has 32 Historical Studyquot has 44 Literature and the Artsquot has 58 Moral Reasoningquot has 1 5 as does Social Analysis Quantitative Reasoning has 25 and Science has 44 What are the odds that two random students who bump into each other will have courses in common At the advanced end of the curriculum Harvard offers about 40 majors For students with interdisciplinary interests these can be combined into an almost endless array of joint majors And if that doesn t do the trick students can create their own degree plan And Harvard is not unusual Princeton offers its students a choice of 350 courses from which to satisfy its general education requirements Stanford which has a larger student body offers even more Even at my small school Swarthmore College with only 1350 students we offer about 120 courses to meet our version of the general education requirement from which students must select nine And though I have mentioned only extremely selective private institutions don t think that the range of choices they offer is peculiar to them Thus at Penn State for example liberal arts stu dents can choose from over 40 majors and from hundreds of courses intended to meet general education requirements There are many bene ts to these expanded educational opportu nities The traditional values and traditional bodies of knowledge Let s Go Shopping I 17 transmitted from teachers to students in the past were constraining and often myopic Until very recently important ideas re ecting the values insights and challenges of people from different traditions and cultures had been systematically excluded from the curricu lum The tastes and interests of the idiosyncratic students had been sti ed and frustrated in the modern university each individual student is free to pursue almost any interest without having to be harnessed to what his intellectual ancestors thought was worth knowing But this freedom may come at a price New students are required to make choices about education that may affect them for the rest of their lives And they are forced to make these choices at a point in their intellectual development when they may lack the resources to make them intelligently SIIOIIIIIIIII IOI Entertainment EFORE THE ADVENT or CABLE AMERICAN TELEVISION VIEWERS HAD the three networks from which to choose In large cities there were up to a half dozen additional local stations When cable rst came on the scene its primary function was to provide better recep tion Then new stations appeared slowly at rst but more rapidly as time went on Now there are 200 or more my cable provider offers 2 70 not counting the ondemand movies we can obtain with just a phone call If 200 options aren t enough there are Special sub scription services that allow you to watch any football game being played by a major college anywhere in the country And who knows what the cuttingedge technology will bring us tomorrow But what if with all these choices we nd ourselves in the hind of wanting to watch two shows broadcast in the same time slot Thanks to VCRs that s no longer a problem Watch one and tape one for later Or for the real enthusiasts among us there are picture WW r 1 8 i The Parade ofChoice inpicture TVs that allow us to watch two shows at the same time And all of this is nothing compared to the major revolution in TV watching that is now at our doorstep Those programmable electronic boxes like TiVo enable us in effect to create our own TV stations We can program those devices to find exactly the kinds of shows we want and to cut out the commercials the promos the leadins and whatever else we nd annoying And the boxes can learn what we like and then suggest to us programs that we may not have thought of We can now watch whatever we want whenever we want to We don t have to schedule our TV time We don t have to look at the TV page in the newspaper Middle of the night or early in the morning no matter when that old movie is on it s available to us exactly when we want it So the TV experience is now the very essence of choice without boundaries In a decade or so when these boxes are in everybody s home it s a good bet that when folks gather around the watercooler to discuss last night s big TV events no two of them will have watched the same shows Like the college freshmen struggling in vain to nd a shared intellectual experience American TV viewers will be struggling to nd a shared TV experience But Is Expanded sholca ood uI Ball MERICANS SPEND MORE TIME SHOPPING THAN THE MEMBERS OF any other society Americans go to shopping centers about once a week more often than they go to houses of worship and Ameri cans now have more shopping centers than high schools In a recent survey 93 percent of teenage girls surveyed said that shop ping was their favorite activity Mature women also say they like shepping but working women say that shopping is a hassle as do Let s Go Shopping 1 19 most men When asked to rank the pleasure they get from various activities grocery shopping ranks next to last and other shopping fth from the bottom And the trend over recent years is downward Apparently people are shopping more now but enjoying it less There is something puzzling about these ndings It39s not so odd perhaps that people spend more time shopping than they used to With all the options available picking what you want takes more effort But why do people enjoy it less And if they do enjoy it less why do they keep doing it If we don t like shopping at the super market for example we can just get it over with and buy what we always buy ignoring the alternatives Shopping in the modern supermarket demands extra effort only if we re intent on scrutiniz ing every possibility and getting the best thing And for those of us who shop in this way increasing options should be a good thing not a bad one And this indeed is the standard line among social scientists who study choice If we re rational they tell us added options can only make us better off as a society Those of us who care will bene t and those of us Who don39t care can always ignore the added options This View seems logically compelling but empirically it isn39t true A recent series of studies titled When Choice Is Demotivating provide the evidence One study was set in a gourmet food store in an upscale community where on weekends the owners commonly set up sample tables of new items When researchers set up a dis play featuring a line of exotic highquality 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 6 vari eties of the jam were available for tasting In another 24 varieties were available In either case the entire set of 24 varieties was avail able for purchase The large array of jams attracted more people to 20 I The Paradox ofChoice the table than the small array though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average When it came to buy ing however a huge difference became evident Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar only 3 percent of those exposed to the large array of jams did so In a second study this time in the laboratory college students were asked to evaluate a variety of gourmet chocolates in the guise of a marketing survey The students were then asked which choco late based on description and appearance they would choose for themselves Then they tasted and rated that chocolate Finally in a different room the students were offered a small box of the choco lates 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 satis ed 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 The authors of the study speculated about several explanations for these results A large array of options may discourage consumers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision 80 consumers decide not to decide and don t buy the prod uct Or if they do the effort that the decision requires detracts from the enjoyment derived from the results Also a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose the reason being that thinking about the attractions of some of the unchosen options detracts from the pleasure derived from the Cho sen one I will be examining these and other possible explanations throughout the book But for now the puzzle we began with remains why can t people just ignore many or some of the options and treat a 30 option array as if it were a 6option array Let39s Go Shopping 5 21 There are several possible answers First an industry of mar keters and advertisers makes products dif cult or impossible to ignore They are in our faces all the time Second we have a ten dency to look around at What others are doing and use them as a standard of comparison If the person sitting next to me on an air plane is using an extremely light compact laptop computer with a large crystalclear screen the choices for me as a consumer have just been expanded whether I want them to be or not Third we may suffer from what economist Fred Hirsch referred to as the tyranny of small decisions We say to ourselves Let s go to one more store or Let s look at one more catalog and not Let39s go to all the stores or let s look at all the catalogsquot It always seems easy to add just one more item to the array that is already being consid ered So we go from 6 options to 30 one option at a time By the time we re done with our search we may look back in horror at all the alternatives we ve considered and discarded along the way But what I think is most important is that peOple won t ignore alternatives if they don t realise that too many alternatives can cre ate a problem And our culture sanctifies freedom of choice so pro foundly that the bene ts of in nite options seem selfevident When experiencing dissatisfaction or hassle on a shopping trip consumers are likely to blame it on something else surly salespeople traf c jams high prices items out of stock anything but the overwhelm ing array of options Nonetheless certain indicators pop up occasionally that signal discontent with this trend There are now several books and maga zines devoted to what is called the voluntary simplicity move ment Its core idea is that we have too many choices too many decisions too little time to do what is really important Unfortunately I39m not sure that people attracted to this move ment think about simplicity in the same way I do Recently I 22 I The Paradox ofChoice opened a magazine called Real Simple to nd something of a simplic ity credo It said that at the end of the day we re so caught up in doing there s no time to stop and think Or to take care of our own wants and needs Reef Simpfe it is claimed offers actionable solu tions to simplify your life eliminate clutter and help you focus on what you want to do not what you have to do Taking care of our own wants and focusing on what we want to do does not strike me as a solution to the problem of too much choice It is precisely so that we can each of us focus on our own wants that all of these choices emerged in the rst place Could readers be attracted to a magazine that offered to simplify their lives by convincing them to stop wanting many of the things they wanted That might go a long way toward reducing the choice problem But who would choose to buy the magazine We can imagine a point at which the options would be so copi ous that even the world39s most ardent supporters of freedom of choice would begin to say enough already Unfortunately that point of revulsion seems to recede endlessly into the future In the next chapter we ll explore some of the newer areas of choice that have been added to complicate our lives The question is does this increased complexity bring with it increased satisfaction NAPIER mu New Choices ILTERING our EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION IS ONE OF THE BASIC functions of consciousness If everything available to our senses demanded our attention at all times we wouldn39t be able to get through the day Much of human progress has involved reducing the time and energy as well as the number of processes we have to engage in and think about for each of us to obtain the necessities of life We moved from foraging and subsistence agriculture to the development of crafts and trade As cultures advanced not every individual had to focus every bit of energy every day on lling his belly One could specialize in a certain skill and then trade the prod nets of that skill for other goods Eons later manufacturers and merchants made life simpler still Individuals could simply purchase food and clothing and household items often until very recently at the same general store The variety of offerings was meager but the time spent procuring them was minimal as well In the past few decades though that long process of simplifying and bundling economic offerings has been reversed Increasingly the trend moves back toward timeconsuming foraging behavior as each of us is forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life IHIAPTHI ElEUEN What to Do About Choice HE sews I VE REPORTED IS NOT GOOD HERE we ARE LIVING AT the pinnacle of human possibility awash in material abun dance As a society we have achieved what our ancestors could at most only dream about but it has come at a great price We get what we say we want only to discover that what we want doesn t satisfy us to the degree that we expect We are surrounded by mod ern timesaving devices but we never seem to have enough time We are free to be the authors of our own lives but we don t know exactly What kind of lives We want to write The success of modernity turns out to be bittersweet and everywhere we look it appears that a signi cant contributing factor is the overabundance of choice Having too many choices produces psychological distress especially when combined with regret con cern about status adaptation social comparison and perhaps most important the desire to have the best of everything to maximize I believe there are steps we can take to mitigate even elim inate many of these sources of distress but they aren t easy They require practice discipline and perhaps a new way of thinking 0n the other hand each of these steps will bring its own rewards 222 l The Paradox ofChoice 1 quot0038 Vlth In BIIIIOSB 5 WE HAVE SEEN HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO CHOOSE is ESSEN tial for wellbeing but choice has negative features and the negative features escalate as the number of choices increases The bene ts of having options are apparent with each particular deci sion we face but the costs are subtle and cumulative In other words it isn t this or that particular choice that creates the prob lem it s all the choices taken together It isn t easy to pass up opportunities 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 coffeernaker but the process of choice makes you feel worse about what you ve chosen you really haven t gained any thing 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 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 But by restricting our options we will be able to choose less and feel better Try the following 1 Review some recent decisions that you39ve made both small and large a clothing purchase a new kitchen appliance a vacation destination a retirement pension allocation a medical procedure a job or relationship change Wat to Do About Choice 4223 2 Itemize the steps time research and anxiety that went into making those decisions 3 Remind yourself how it felt to do that work 4 Ask yourself how much your nal decision bene ted from that work This exercise may help you better appreciate the costs associated with the decisions you make which may lead you to give up some decisions altogether or at least to establish rules of thumb for your self about how many options to consider or how much time and energy to invest in choosing 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 Restricting yourself in this way may seem both dif cult and arbitrary but actually this is the kind of discipline we exercise in other aspects of life You may have a rule of thumb never to have more than two glasses of wine at a sitting The alcohol tastes good and it makes you feel good and the opportunity for another drink is right at your elbow yet you stop And for most people it isn t that hard to stop Why One reason is that you get insistent instructions from society about the dangers of too much alcohol A second reason is that you may have had the experience of drinking too much and discovered that it isn t pretty There39s no guarantee that the third glass of wine will be the one that sends you over the edge but why risk it Unfor tunately there are no insistent instructions from society about shopping too much Nor perhaps has it been obvious to you that choice overload gives you a hangover Until now But if you ve been convinced by the arguments and the evidence in this book you now know that choice has a downside an awareness that should 224 l The Paradox ofChoice make it easier for you to adopt and live with a two options is my limit rule It39s worth a try 2 Be a Menu Nut a Pinker aooseas ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO REFLECT 0N WHAT MAKES a decision important on whether perhaps none of the options should be chosen on whether a new option should be created and on what a particular choice says about the chooser as an individual It is choosers who create new opportunities for themselves and everyone else But when faced with overwhelming choice we are forced to become pickers which is to say relatively passive selec tors 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 auto matic 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 nd the needed time and attention is by choosing our spots As you go through the exercise of reviewing recent choices you ve made not only will you become more aware of associated costs you ll discover that there are some things you really care about and others you don t This will allow you to 1 Shorten or eliminate deliberations about decisions that are unimportant to you 2 Use some of the time you ve freed up to ask yourself Twhat you really want in the areas of your life where decisions matter 3 And if you discover that none of the options the world Mat to Do About Choice I225 presents in those areas meet your needs start thinking about creating better options that do 3 Sallsline More am Maximize less T S MAXlMIZERS wao serves MOST IN A CULTURE THAT PROVIDES too many choices It is maximizers who have expectations that can t be met It is maximizers who worry most about regret about missed opportunities and about social comparisons and it is maxi mizers who are most disappointed when the results of decisions are not as good as they expected Learning to accept good enoughquot will simplify decision making and increase satisfaction Though satisficers may often do less well than maximizers according to certain objective standards nonethe less by settling for good enough even when the best could be just around the corner satis cers will usually feel better about the decisions they make Admittedly there are often times when it is dif cult to embrace good enoughquot Seeing that you could have done better may be irri tating In addition there is a world of marketers out there trying to convince you that good enoughquot isn t good enough when new and improved is available Nonetheless everybody satis ces in at least some areas of life because even for the most fastidious it s impossible to be a maximizer about everything The trick is to learn to embrace and appreciate satis cing to cultivate it in more and more aspects of life rather than merely being resigned to it Becoming a conscious intentional satis cer makes comparison with how other people are doing less important It makes regret less likely In the complex choicesaturated world we live in it makes peace of mind possible To become a satis cer however requires that you think carefully 226 The Paradox ofChoice about your goals and aspirations and that you develop wellde ned standards for what is good enoughquot whenever you face a decision Knowing what s good enough requires knowing yourself and what you care about So 1 Think about occasions in life when you settle comfortably for good enoughquot 2 Scrutinize how you choose in those areas 3 Then apply that strategy more broadly I remember quite vividly going through this process myself sev eral years ago when competitive long distance phone services rst became available Because i make a fairly large number of long distance phone calls and because i was being deluged with unso licited advertisements from various companies I found it hard to resist the temptation to try to nd the absolute best company and plan for my calling habits Making the various needed comparisons was dif cult timeconsuming and confusing because different companies organized their services and charges in different ways Furthermore as I worked on the problem new companies and new plans kept on coming I knew I didn t want to spend all this time solving my telephone problem but it was like an itch that I couldn t resist scratching Then one day i went out to replace a toaster One store two brands two models done As I walked home it occurred to me that I could if I wanted to pick my long distance service in the same way i breathed a sigh of relief 1 did it and i haven t thought about it since illhat to Do About Choice I 227 4 think About the llll l39llllllty Busts ul llppartunltv Busts HEN MAKING A DECISION IT S USUALLY A coon IDEA TO THINK about the alternatives we will pass up when choosing our most preferred Option Ignoring these opportunity costsquot can lead us to overestimate how good the best option is On the other hand the more we think about opportunity costs the less satisfaction we ll derive from whatever we choose So we should make an effort to limit how much we think about the attractive features of options we reject 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 opportu nity costs altogether but often it is dif cult or impossible to judge how good an option is except in relation to other options What de nes a good investment quot for example is to a large degree its rate of return in comparison with other investments There is no obvi ous absolute standard that we can appeal to so some amount of re ection on opportunity costs is probably essential But not too much Secondorder decisions can help here When we decide to opt out of deciding in some area of life we don t have to think about opportunity costs And being a satis cer can help too Because satis cers have their own standards for what is good enough they are less dependent than maximizers on comparison among alternatives A good investment for a satis cer may be one that returns more than in ation Period No need to worry about opportunity costs No need to experience the diminution of satisfac tion that comes from contemplating all the other things you might have done with the money Will the satis cer earn less from invest ments than the maximizer Perhaps Will she be less satis ed with m 228 l The Paradox ofChoice the results Probably not Will she have more time available to devote to other decisions that matter to her Absolutely There are some strategies you can use to help you avoid the dis appointment that comes from thinking about opportunity costs 1 Unless you39re truly dissatis ed stick with what you always buy 2 Don39t be tempted by new and improved 3 Don39t scratch unless there s an itch 4 And don39t worry that if you do this you ll miss out on all the new things the world has to offer You39ll encounter plenty of new things anyway Your friends and coworkers will tell you about products they39ve bought or vacations they ve taken So you39ll stumble onto improvements on your habit ual choices without going looking for them If you sit back and let new and improvedquot nd you you ll spend a lot less time choosing and experience a lot less frustration over the fact that you can39t nd an alternative that combines all the things you like into one neat package 5 Make Ylllll39 quotBGISIIIIIS quotIIIII39EVBI39SIIIIE LMOST EVERYBODY WOULD RATHER BUY IN A STORE THAT PERMITS returns than in one that doeS not What we don39t realize is that the very option of being allowed to change our minds seems to increase the chances that we will change our minds When we can change our minds about decisions we are less satis ed with them When a decision is nal we engage in a variety of psychological processes that enhance our feelings about the choice we made rela What to Do About Choice I229 tive to the alternatives If a decision is reversible we don39t engage these processes to the same degree I think the power of nonreversible decisions comes through most clearly when we think about our most important choices A friend once told me how his minister had shocked the congregation with a sermon on marriage in which he said atly that yes the grass is always greener What he meant was that inevitably you will encounter people who are younger better looking funnier smarter or seemingly more understanding and empathetic than your wife or husband But nding a life partner is not a matter of comparison shopping and trading upquot The only way to nd happi neSS and stability in the presence of seemingly attractive and tempt ing options is to say I m simply not going there I39ve made my decision about a life partner so this person39s empathy or that per son s looks really have nothing to do with me I m not in the mar ket end of storyquot Agonizing over whether your love is the real thingquot or your sexual relationship above or below par and wonder ing whether you could have done better is a prescription for misery Knowing that you ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than constantly secondguessing it B Pracllca an Mlllllllll Ill lil39alllllllaquot UR EVALUATION OF OUR CHOICES IS PROFOUNDLY AFFECTED BY what we compare them with including comparisons with alter natives that exist only in our imaginations The same experience can have both delightful and disappointing aspects Which of these we focus on may determine whether we judge the experience to be satisfactory or not When we imagine better alternatives the one 230 i The Paradox ofChoice we chose can seem worse When We imagine worse alternatives the one we chose can seem better We can vastly improve our subjective experience by consciously striving to be grateful more often for what is good about a choice or an experience and to be disappointed less by What is bad about it 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 could be worse But with practice we can learn to re ect on how much better things are than they might be which will in turn make the good things in life feel even better It may seem demeaning to accept the idea that experiencing gratitude takes practice Why not just tell yourself that starting tomorrow I m going to pay more attention to what s good in my lifequot and be done with it The answer is that habits of thought die hard Chances are good that if you give yourself that general direc tive you won t actually follow it Instead you might consider adopt ing a simple routine 1 Keep a notepad at your bedside 2 Every morning when you wake up or every night when you go to bed use the notepad to list ve things that happened the day before that you re grateful for These objects of gratitude occasion ally will be big a job promotion a great rst date but most of the time they will be small sunlight streaming in through the bedroom window a kind word from a friend a piece of sword sh cooked just the way you like it an informative article in a magazine 3 You will probably feel a little silly and even selfconscious when you start doing this But if you keep it up you will nd that it What to Do About Choice I 231 gets easier and easier more and more natural You also may nd yourself discovering many things to be grateful for on even the most ordinary of days Finally you may nd yourself feeling better and better about your life as it is and less and less driven to nd the new and improved products and activities that will enhance it 7 Regret lass HE STING or REGRET EITHER ACTUAL on POTENTIAL COLORS many decisions and sometimes in uences us to avoid making decisions at all Although regret is often appropriate and instruc tive when it becomes so pronounced that it poisons or even pre vents decisions we should make an effort to minimize it We can mitigate regret by 1 Adopting the standards of a satis cer rather than a maximizer 2 Reducing the number of options we consider before making a decision 3 Practicing gratitude for what is good in a decision rather than focusing on our disappointments with what is bad 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 the life transforming power we sometimes think I have a friend frustrated over his achievements in life who has wasted countless hours over the past thirty years regretting that he passed up the chance to go to a certain Ivy League college Everything would have been so differ entquot he often mutters if only I had gone The simple fact is that he might have gone away to the school of his dreams and been hit by a bus He might have ilunked out or had a nervous breakdown or sim 232 i The Paradox ofChoice ply felt out of place and hated it But what I ve always wanted to point out to him is that he made the decision he made for a variety of complex reasons inherent in who he was as a young man Changing the one decision going to the more prestigious college would not have altered his basic character or erased the other problems that he faced so there really is nothing to say that his life or career would have turned out any better But one thing I do know is that his expe rience of them would be in nitely happier if he could let go of regret a Antlclnalo Adaptation E ADAPT T0 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 treadmillquot robbing us of the full measure of satis faction we expect from each positive experience We can t prevent adaptation What we can do is develop realistic expectations about how experiences change with time Our challenge is to remember that the high quality sound system the luxury car and the ten thousandsquarefoot house won39t keep providing the pleasure they give when we rst experience them Learning to be satis ed as pleas ures turn into mere comforts will ease disappointment with adap tation when it occurs We can also reduce disappointment from adaptation by following the satis cer s strategy of spending less time and energy researching and agonizing over decisions In addition to being aware of the hedonic treadmill we should also be wary of the satisfaction treadmillquot This is the double whammy of adaptation Not only do we adapt to a given experi ence so that it feels less good over time but we can also adapt to a given level of feeling good so that it stops feeling good enough Here the habit of gratitude can be helpful too Imagining all the ways in we l39Vhat to Do About Choice l 233 which we could be feeling Worse might prevent us from taking for granted adapting to how good we actually feel So to be better prepared for and less disappointed by adaptation 1 As you buy your new car acknowledge that the thrill won t be quite the same two months after you own it 2 Spend less time looking for the perfect thing maximizing so that you won t have huge search costs to be quotamortizedquot against the satisfaction you derive from what you actually choose 3 Remind yourself of how good things actually are instead of focusing on how they re less good than they were at first a neutral Expectations UR EVALUATION or EXPERIENCE is SUBSTANTIALLY INFLUENCED or how it compares with our expectations So what may be the eas iest 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 So to make the task of lowering expectations easier 1 Reduce the number of options you consider 2 Be a satisficer rather than a maximizer 3 Allow for serendipity How often have you checked into your long awaited vacation spot only to experience that dreaded underwhelmed feeling The 234 z The Paradox ofChoice thrill of unexpected pleasure stumbled upon by accident often can make the perfect little diner or country inn far more enjoyable that a fancy French restaurant or fourstar hotel Ill curtail Social Comparlsnn E EVALUATE THE QUALITY or ore EXPERIENCES BY COMPARING ourselves to others Though social comparison can provide useful information it often reduces our satisfaction 80 by compar ing ourselves to others less we will be satis ed more Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing is easy advice to give but hard advice 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 nally 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 compari son seems suf ciently destructive to our sense of wellbeing that it is worthwhile to remind ourselves to do it less Because it is easier for a satis cer to avoid social comparison than for a maximizer learning that good enough is good enough may automatically reduce con cern with how others are doing Following the other suggestions I ve made may sometimes mean that when judged by an absolute standard the results of decisions will be less good than they might otherwise have been all the more reason to ght the tendency to make social comparisons So 1 Remember that He who dies with the most toys wins is a bumper sticker not wisdom What to Do About Choice 235 2 Focus on what makes you happy and what gives meaning to your life 11 learn III lllV constraints 5 THE NUMBER or CHOICES WE FACE INCREASES FREEDOM or choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice Routine deci sions take so much time and attention that it becomes dif cult 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 a rule for example always wear a seat bait 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 rulefollowing frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don t apply In the short run thinking about these second order decisions decisions about when in life we will deliberate and when we will fol low predetermined paths adds a layer of complexity to life But in the long run many of the daily hassles will vanish and we will nd ourselves with time energy and attention for the decisions we have chosen to retain Take a look at the cartoon on page 236 You can be anything you want to be no limitsquot says the myopic parent sh to its off spring not realizing how limited an existence the shbowl allows But is the parent really myopic Living in the constrained protec39 tive world of the shbowl enables this young sh to experiment to explore to create to write its life story without worrying about starving or being eaten Without the shbowl there truly would be


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