339 of 358 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2004
This is an eye-opening book -- it brings the clarity and insight into decision-making that The Tipping Point did for trends.
I have seen Barry Schwartz interviewed on TV and listened to a radio interview regarding this book. These interviews focused a lot on decision-making in things like shopping, and how having more choices actually makes shopping harder and makes everyone dislike the process more.
I think "Paradox of Choice" does bring insight into shopping, but its range is actually much wider than that. Schwartz discusses people making difficult decisions about jobs, families, where to live, whether to have children, how to spend recreational time, choosing colleges, etc. He talks about why making these decisions today is much harder than it was 30 years ago, and he offers many practical suggestions for how to address decision-making so that it creates less stress and more happiness. He even discusses how so much additional choice affects children, and how parents can help make childhood (particularly young childhood) less stressful.
There are two other factors about this book that really made it great for me. The first is that Schwartz is a serious academic (although his writing isn't dense in any way at all) -- so he talks about studies that back up his assertions in every facet of his argument. He describes the studies in a very lively way, so that they really come to life, and we can understand how they relate to the issue at hand. And, importantly, we then realize that his discussion is really founded on the latest and most advanced research into decision-making. This is not some self-help guru with a half-baked idea spouting off.
The other thing that I really like about this book is that it has given me a new way to think about our larger society, and what I like and don't like about it. Schwartz has written books before that are expressly critiques of some aspects of America today, and while this book is more focused on the individual, you can't help but come away feeling more thoughtful about the larger effect of these issues on our culture.
I only wish that I had read this book before my latest career change -- it would have saved me a considerable amount of anguish. This is a great book!!
378 of 407 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2007
Unfortunately, I came to this book a bit late. And even more unfortunately, I read Daniel Gilbert's breezily engaging "Stumbling On Happiness" before taking this one in. I say that because - though I found "The Paradox of Choice" to be a solid and effectively-argued treatise on the very modern problem of consumer inundation - there is an almost-overwhelming amount of overlapping studies from that book to this one.
Need proof? Well, be careful what you wish for! Because I, obsessive nerd that I am, actually kept track. The repeated studies are as follows (and please feel free to skip this paragraph if you haven't read "Stumbling"): the unpleasant noise/colonoscopy "peak end" experiment (pp. 49-50, paperback edition); the college student snack-picking survey (p. 51), the 3rd letter/1st letter demonstration of the availability heuristic (page 58); the $100 coin flip risk assessment analysis (p.65); the $20 concert ticket example of "sunk costs" (pp.70-3); the "experience sampling method" (p.106); trade offs involving new car options (p.124), the picture choosing study (p.138); the lottery/quadriplegic examples of hedonic temperature on p.170. And I could go on (really!), but I think I'll spare you (and me) the trouble.
Suffice it to say, if you read "Stumbling on Happiness," you will find a lot of repeat material here. And you may find that frustrating, as I sometimes did. If you're still interested in the ideas (and solutions) presented in this book, I recommend you pick it up in the library and just read chapters 4 and 11, which for all practical purposes can serve as a condensed version of the entire work.
But even if you haven't read "Stumbling," there's still quite a bit of this book that can be skimmed past without missing too much - especially in the beginning. In chapters one and two, the author goes a little overboard (perhaps intentionally?) in showing us just how easy it is to drown in the sea of choices that can be made in every facet of life.
It all becomes a bit repetitive and recurring and redundant and sometimes makes its points a few too many times over (much like I just did in this very sentence - annoying, isn't it?). I mean, the "jeans story" in the prologue is amusing and easy to relate to, but in Part I of the book ("When We Choose") we have to hear about how many options are involved in (*takes a deep breath*) groceries and gadgets and catalogs and academics and entertainment and utilities and health insurance and retirement plans and medical care and beauty and work and love and worship and identity. (*falls on ground, gasping for air*)
I GET it, Barry! I UNDERSTAND there are too many choices in the world - that's why I bought your gol-danged book! For the impatient readers out there, I would suggest skipping these chapters entirely (but then again, that would entail you having to make another choice, and I don't want to burden you with yet another one - so forget I mentioned it, okay?)
Thankfully, it gets better. Part II ("How We Choose") is decidedly more rewarding (save for the repeat studies mentioned above). On pages 77-8, Schwartz lays out his central construct of "maximizers vs. satisficers": "If you seek and accept only the best, you are a maximizer...The alternative to maximizing is to be a satificer. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better."
And until the final chapter, the rest of the book (aka Part III: "Why We Suffer") is spent convincingly (albeit somewhat relentlessly) warning against the energy-draining dangers of "maximizing" and extolling the virtues of "satisficing." (And, let the record show, it is never explained (in my copy, anyway), where the term "satisficing" comes from. I suppose it is an amalgam of "satisfy" and "suffice," but to this reader it seems a little forced, unnecessary and even a bit pretentious - and I usually like dumb wordplay.)
I truly enjoyed the ensuing discussions about concepts such as: the wealth/availability of choices in various nations and how it correlates (or doesn't) to happiness; harnessing the power of second order decisions; how to best deal with opportunity costs (according to standard economic assumptions); the confounding qualities inherent in trade-offs; how counterfactuals can be used for the power of good; and the vagaries of such things as "inaction inertia" and "positional goods."
(And by the way, if the above list sounds a bit dry to your ears... that's because it is. The writing in this book exists on the cusp between the conversational and the academic. It's not quite as engaging or chatty as the prose of other pop-science authors like Leavit or Gladwell or Gilbert, but it's not so dry that you could use it to mop up nasty spills...)
Along the way, a collection of not-very-funny half- to full-page New Yorker comic strip panels appear every 25 pages or so and don't do a heck of a lot to spice up the proceedings. Also, the penultimate chapter on depression seems to come out of nowhere and has little to do with the rest of the book.
But the final chapter (found in Part IV: "What We Can Do") does a nice job of summing up the concepts and suggesting possible coping strategies. Though I struggled at times with the pace and the tone of this book (perhaps because I was spoiled by "Stumbling"), I still think there is enough good stuff in here to merit a perusal.
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
I remember reading about ten or twelve years ago of Russian immigrants to America who were overwhelmed by the choices in the average supermarket. Accustomed to a choice of cereal or no cereal, they became paralyzed when confronted with flakes, puffs, pops, sugared or not, oat, wheat, corn, rice, hot or cold, and on and on. Now, according to Barry Schwartz, we are all overwhelmed by too many choices.
No one is immune, he says. Even if someone doesn't care about clothes or restaurants, he might care very much about TV channels or books. And these are just the relatively unimportant kinds of choices. Which cookie or pair of jeans we choose doesn't really matter very much. Which health care plan or which university we choose matters quite a lot. How do different people deal with making decisions?
Schwartz analyzes from every angle how people make choices. He divides people into two groups, Maximizers and Satisficers, to describe how some people try to make the best possible choice out of an increasing number of options, while others just settle for the first choice that meets their standards. (I think he should have held out for a better choice of word than "satisficer.")
I was a bit disappointed that Schwartz dismissed the voluntary simplicity movement so quickly. They have covered this ground and found practical ways of dealing with an overabundance of choice. Instead of exploring their findings, Schwartz picked up a copy of Real Simple magazine, and found it was all about advertising. If he had picked up a copy of The Overspent American by Juliet Schor or Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin instead, he might have found some genuine discussion of simple living rather than Madison Avenue's exploitation of it.
I enjoyed the first part of The Paradox of Choice, about how we choose, but the second half, about regret and depression, seemed to drag. Fortunately, I was able to choose to skim the slow bits and move right to the more interesting conclusion, about how to become more satisfied (or "satisficed") through better decision-making.
151 of 176 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed reading this book very much. Having rules and constraints in society is a good thing and should be embraced. This is an important idea of this book. The Paradox of Choice explains how people arrive at the decisions they do. This book also talks about the negative aspects of making decisions in a world with so many choices. Finally, this book offers suggestions on how to make better choices and reduce stress.
Barry Schwartz makes many good points about decision making. One of them is that because of the growing number of choices we are presented with, we don't always have the time to look at all the information out there to make the best choice. Another interesting point is that people expect certain decisions to be made for them. In the health care field for example, we expect the doctor to tell what kind of treatment we need.
I learned from reading this book that we should all strive to be satisficers rather maximizers. A satisficer is a person who chooses a product or service that is good enough. A maximizer is a person who is always trying to get the best product. A satisficer is usually happy with their choice. In contrast, a maximizer isn't happy and often regrets what they bought.
We should also try to stick our choices and not change our minds. This is another way to reduce anixety I learned in the book. This is very hard to do consistently, but I thought this was a good piece of advice. I also enjoyed the idea of being a chooser and not a picker. Choosers have time to change their goals whereas pickers do not. Choosers take their time making a decision considering all their options unlike pickers who do not.
The Paradox of Choice is an excellent book with a lot of interesting information about the habits people have in making decisions. It also has very useful tips on how to reduce anixety in your life.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Jimmy Carter was lampooned for talking about the American "malaise," yet everyone acknowledges its existence. As the American gross domestic product has doubled over the last thirty years, the number of Americans who describe themselves as "very happy" has declined. The incidence of depression has grown to the point where 7.5% of Americans experience an episode of clinical depression before the age of fourteen, double the rate of a decade ago. The suicide rate among college students has tripled. We've had children shooting children in primary schools and in high schools like Columbine, divorce rates that make failed marriages more likely than successful ones, and sales of 50 million diet books per year accompanied by widespread anorexia and bulimia. In the midst of unparalleled plenty, Americans are remarkably unhappy.
In THE PARADOX OF CHOICE, Barry Schwartz proposes overabundant choice as a partial explanation for these disturbing trends. In prose that varies from casual and familiar to moderately academic (but never to the point of being difficult), Schwartz dissects the richness of America's consumption-driven society from a psychologist's viewpoint. He contends that too much choice is as bad, or worse, than too few choices and sometimes the same as no choice at all. We face more choices than ever before: more brands of toothpaste or cereal, more options on our cars and computers, more telephone calling plans, more types of vacations, more TV channels, more of everything.
Having so many choices in every aspect of life paralyzes those whom Schjwartz calls maximizers, those who invariably seek the "best" option for every decision. They face untold hours comparing alternatives and can never be happy even after they make their decisions because of other or newer alternatives, their own choice failing to meet their expectations, comparison with others, and adaptation effects which naturally lessen their happiness over time. More fortunate are the "satisficers," those who are content with a good enough solution, yet even they can suffer the same psychic disappointments.
Each chapter of THE PARADOX OF CHOICE examines a different aspect of the "choice overload" problem. Schwartz introduces us to obscure terms like hedonic adaptation, hedonic zero point, and prospect theory, but his explanations are clear, backed up by helpful examples and references to underlying research and studies. For those of us without undergraduate degrees in Psychology, the author provides a gentle introduction to, and fascinating tour of, the psychologies of decision-making and (un)happiness in a consumer society.
While I found much of this book thought provoking, I have two significant criticisms. First, the writing at times feels repetitive and even over-explained, as if this was really an Atlantic Monthly or Psychology Today article forcibly stretched to book length. Second, even granting that the book is pop psychology, many of the author's closing recommendations are laughably simplistic, suggesting that people can simply turn off the same behaviors he has spent the previous 200 pages explaining as basic human nature. It's as if a book about alcoholism ended with cures to "just stop drinking" or "don't go near places where you can get a drink." Telling people to write down every night five things that happened that day for which they were grateful sounds like Dr. Phil coaching Mary Poppins out of her blues.
For readers who want to understand why having more and more seems to bring less and less satisfaction, this book will provide food for thought. As a sociocultural exploration of middle class malaise in the midst of abundance, THE PARADOX OF CHOICE is itself a good choice. As a guide for how to cope with the problem, better to look elsewhere for answers. After all, followers of Buddhism have known for over 2,500 years that material possessions are a major source of human suffering, and for many of the same reasons Schwartz presents in this book.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2004
The counterintuitive title of this book makes sense by page two, which is only the first of many wonders Schwartz makes happen over the course of this deceptively thin and breezy tome. Paradox explains why we feel like we have less time even as technology continues to promise to make life easier. In a nutshell, it's because we have too many choices and invest great amounts of time and mental capital in making decisions that were far simpler or simply didn't exist in the past. Schwartz start with examples like buying jeans--slim fit? baggy fit? classic fit? relaxed fit? tapered leg? button fly? zip fly?--or choosing phone service--AT&T? MCI? countless baby Bells? myriad cellular providers?--but quickly demonstrates that our choices in every area of life, including where to live, who (or whether) to marry, what to do for a living, and much more have expanded to a degree that we not only spend more time contemplating our choices, but experience far more regret afterward--or sometimes, he argues, choose not to choose at all because thinking about all the choices we must forego in order to choose just one paralyzes us--or makes the option we like the best seem less appealing.
Schwartz also notes that the increased array of choices combines with the human imagination in dangerous ways that make us sadder. Life gives us choices with fixed qualities--a good job with potential in a city far from home or a decent job with little potential that's close to home--but we compose our own options by assembling aspects of the real choices into fictional options that we then compare with reality. What a surprise that, as we learn of more and more choices, reality falls further and further short! I can't have it all: live close enough to family and retain the freedom to use distance as an excuse to avoid obligations, live in Minneapolis and also in a house with Brad, work with people I loved working with and also return to Illinois. Yet in times of distress, I (and all of us, Schwartz says) tend to compare the situation that troubles me not with a real alternative but with a fantasy constructed from several conflicting components. This is not a useful way to deal with whatever it is that troubles me, or any of us.
Fortunately, Schwartz closes the book by offering useful suggestions for understanding the problems unlimited choices pose in our society and dealing with them in our own lives. His book isn't perfect--it gets a bit redundant at times--but it's a fascinating take on a topic that plays a bigger role in modern life than many of us realize.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2004
Dr. Schwartz has exposed the difference between the best and good enough. He tells us that "maximizers" are people who want the absolute best, so they have to examine every choice or they fear they are not getting the best. However, looking at all the choices is usually frustrating and takes too much time. A "satisficer" is a person who looks at the options and chooses an option that is good enough.
Maximizers may look at satisficers and say, "they're lazy or they're compromisers", but Dr. Schwartz points out that satisficers can have high standards. Dr. Schwart points out that the satisficer with high standards is internally motivated. The maximizer is more externally motivated because they are not looking at themselves, they're looking at others to see if what they have is better. Dr. Schwartz points out that social comparison brings unhappiness.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Having a choice in life is a good thing; a person without choices is often miserable. As the number of choices grows, our happiness grows with them, but then it begins to decline. Having too many choices creates stress. Schwartz describes his visit to a local supermarket: "...next to the crackers were 285 varieties of cookies. Among chocolate chip cookies there were 21 options. ... Across the isle were juices - 13 `sports drinks,' 65 `box drinks' for kids, 85 other flavors and brands of juices, and 75 iced teas and adult drinks. I could get these tea drinks sweetened (sugar or artificial sweetener), lemoned, and flavored. ... I found 61 varieties of suntan oil and sunblock, and 80 different pain relievers - aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen; 350 milligrams or 500 milligrams; caplets, capsules, and tablets; coated or uncoated. There were 40 options for toothpaste, 150 lipsticks, 75 eyeliners, and 90 colors of nail polish from one brand alone."
Those wide choices may seem appealing, but Schwartz brings our attention to what he calls `the darker side of freedom' - the stress of choice. This paradox is the most pronounced in the financial markets. Even though his book is about the paradox of choice in general, I read it with an eye towards the financial markets, my own trading, and what I see in other traders.
Shall we trade stocks, futures, or options? If stocks, shall we trade the more seasoned issues on the NYSE or look for riskier high-growth candidates on the NASDAQ? Should we track agricultural, tropical, or financial futures? And what about the forex? Should we buy or write options, or look into more complex strategies, such as spreads? And worst of all - what if another market makes a spectacular move while our attention is focused elsewhere? No wonder the majority of traders feel so stressed. Schwartz says "Choosing almost always involves giving up something else of value. ... The overload of choice contributes to dissatisfaction."
"Losses hurt more than gains satisfy. ... The cost of any option involves passing up the opportunities that a different option would have afforded. ... Conflict induces people to avoid decisions. ...Emotional unpleasantness makes for bad decisions. ... The desire to avoid regret leads to inaction inertia. ... An overload of choice contributes to dissatisfaction."
Every trader who kicked himself after a profitable trade for having `left more money on the table' will chuckle at a cartoon of a kid in a t-shirt that says "Brown ... but my first choice was Yale." Schwartz shows how people are divided into `maximizers' who always strive for the best and `satisficers' those who settle for some reasonable level of success. "Almost everyone who scores high on maximization scale also scores high on regret." You can decide to be a maximizer in a very small number of situations that truly matter to you and be a more mellow satisficer in the rest of your life. "We would be better off seeking what was good enough instead of seeking the best."
Connections with trading kept running through my mind while reading this book. How many successful people kick themselves, feeling that their performance was not good enough. How many stay way too long in a bad trade because of `sunk costs.' Schwartz exposes the endless flow of coulda-shoulda-woulda as `counterfactual thinking.' He shows how keeping records of decisions impacts people's attitudes towards those decisions. I have been saying over and again that keeping good records is the single most important step towards becoming a successful trader.
The tone of Professor Schwartz's book is that of a friendly, intelligent neighbor, dealing with the same human dilemmas as you and I. He shares his thinking about our problems by talking with us, not at us. His compact and smoothly written book sheds light on many aspects of decision-making, the stress of `roads not taken,' the curse of high expectations, etc.
The mere fact of outlining a problem is a big step towards clarity, but after 10 chapters, I felt ready to hear about his proposed solutions. They were delivered in Chapter 11 (which I hope had nothing to do with the eponymous chapter of the bankruptcy code :-)). Professor Schwartz's advice was lucid, logical, and sensible - but you will have to read it yourself (I do not describe it here because reciting solutions without having worked through the problems is likely not to be useful.)
I highly recommend this book to all traders. My only quibble is the paper quality of the paperback - it is grayish, and should have been much whiter! But the publisher offers you no choice!
www elder com
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2005
From the title of Barry Schwartz's "The Paradox of Choice," we know the argument will be that choice perhaps might not always be a good thing. He likens the current situation in America to the small town resident who visits Manhattan for the first time and is overwhelmed by all the activity (choices). Although most of his research involves everything but investing, I was struck by how much his concepts fit perfectly into what would be a good way to approach a successful investing program.
If we put less emphasis on his discussion of whether or not we are better off with more choices (obviously we are), and more on his advice on how to deal with this product of freedom, we get a book that is logically laid out and argues its point well. He first describes the environment in which our choices come at us, then investigates how our inability of deal with them leads to numerous problems - personal, professional, psychological. The most important part of the book is his summation of how we can adapt and learn to live with this new phenomenon.
His solutions, which he says require practice, discipline, and perhaps a new way of thinking, very closely follow the ingredients of good investing:
(1) Choose when to choose - focus on what's important. Be jealous of how you spend your time. Prioritize. Some things just aren't worth the time and effort.
(2) Be a chooser, not a picker - A chooser actively creates directions; pickers take whatever is available. Choosers choose when; pickers select whatever's available. Choosers are people who think actively about the possibilities before making a decision. Choosers reflect on what's important and the consequences of the action. They makes decisions in a way that reflects awareness of what a given choice means about themselves as people. Choosers are thoughtful enough to conclude that perhaps none of the available alternatives are satisfactory. The pickers grab this or that and hope for the best.
(3) Satisfice more and maximize less - (His definition of the two types of people in the world - satisficers and maximizers). "It is maximizers who have expectations which can't be met. It is maximizers who worry most about regret, about missed opportunities...and it is mazimizers who are most disappointed when decisions are not as good as they expected." - (225). The satisficers settle for something that is good enough and don't worry about the possibility that there might be something better. They have criteria and standards. They search until they find an item that fits those standards, then stop. Maximizers are constantly nagged that they haven't chosen the best. Therefore they get less satisfaction out of their choices than do satisficers.
(4) The opportunity costs of opportunity costs - Don't belabor the alternative - beware of getting bogged down in comparisons. If it works, go with it.
(5) Make your decisions nonreversible - Being able to reverse the decision makes you always wanting to do just that. A "the grass is always greener" mentality that leads to failure and unhappiness.
(6) Practice an "Attitude of Gratitude" - Appreciate what is, not what might have been.
(7) Regret less - Realize that one decision isn't going to make or break you. Live with it and move on.
(8) Anticipate adaptation - Don't become dissatisfied with something that was satisfying.
(9) Control expectations - Don't expect too much.
(10) Curtail social comparisons - Don't compare yourself to others.
(11) Learn to love constraints - Set up your own rules and live by them. They help protect you from yourself.
All in all, an excellent course on dealing with an increasingly complex world. Schwartz's next work should be decision making in the investment world. He's already done all the ground work.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2009
...but I came away thinking the author did not prove his subtitle. He did prove "Why More is Less" but I don't think he showed "How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction". I believe a more accurate (although less appealing) subtitle may have been "How the Culture of Abundance Allows Unrepentant Maximizers to Drive Themselves Crazy".
Full disclosure - I am a Satisficer. I scored very low on his test on page 80. Consequently I don't see how fewer choices in the culture at large would make me more satisfied. I have already found a way to filter out most of the unnecessary (for me) choices in life and an quite content to stick with the same brand of jeans, shirts, and crackers. But at the same time, I would not want to be denied the opportunity to possibly change my mind in the future - and I would not want others who may make different choices than I to be denied either.
That being said - I fully understand certain people may become unhappy with the abundance of choices in our culture. But isn't that a reflection of the individual's reaction to the culture - and not the fault of the culture itself? Are Maximizers victims of the culture as the subtitle implies? Or are they simply people who haven't adequately learned to cope with abundance? If one were to argue that our culture is also a culture of alcohol (you may or may not agree - but I'll play the devil's advocate for now) - does that mean that the culture is responsible for alcoholism within individuals? Does a culture of alcohol "rob" us of our sobriety? I think not. In both cases - it is the individual reaction to the culture (either through choice or predisposition) - not the culture itself - which causes the underlying problem.
Fortunately - the author does not spend too much time prescribing involuntary changes to the culture at large. Instead - he focuses on what individuals can do themselves to deal with the myriad of choices available to them - and how they can create a mindset to lead to higher satisfaction. So my review is mainly critical of the subtitle. In the end the book is worth a read - especially if you are a Maximizer who finds themselves overwhelmed.
PS. One thing I cannot leave out - on page 53 the author states that the average American sees 3000 advertisements per day. I'd really like to know where this statistic came from. It seems so dubious to me that I nearly put the book down at that point.