The paradox of choice. Why choosing which pair of jeans to buy can lead to unhappiness
A core principle of society is that in order to maximise our welfare, we must thereby maximise individual freedom. We maximise freedom by maximising choices. Therefore, life is a matter of choice. However, as the number of choices increase, as it has in our consumer culture, a number of negative aspects of having a multitude of options arise too. As the number of choices grow, the negative aspects escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but drains us.
Think about the process of buying a new pair of jeans - what’s the best option for you? slim fit? straight fit? stone washed? acid washed? zip fly? button fly? It feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? Too much choice has two main negative effects on people. Firstly, it can lead to decision paralysis. With so much choice people often can't choose at all. Then, there is the problem of expectations. When there are so many alternatives, there is also an escalation of expectation. If you go to buy jeans and the store has 12 different models with 12 different features, you will want to buy the perfect pair for you. You want to make the perfect choice. Actually, you will imagine all the attractive features of each one of them - making the decision making process more complex and depleting your energy. Plus your expectations are much higher meaning less satisfaction even when the result is good.
We will consistently think about the options we didn't choose for fear of missing out. We feel dissatisfied because we wonder if we could had made a better choice and in turn, disappointed we may not have the best pair of jeans. It has been noted that depression has exploded in the industrial era. Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of choice”, argues that such is related with self blame after having unrealistically high expectations.
There is no denying that choice improves the quality of our lives. When people have no choice, life is intolerable. However, too much choice makes us feel overloaded making choice no longer a synonym of freedom. Freedom is undoubtedly essential to self-respect, public participation, mobility, and nourishment, but not all our daily choices contribute to it. The increased choice among goods and services, as it happens with jeans, may contribute a little or nothing to the kind of freedom that counts. It may even decrease freedom by taking time and energy we could be devoting to other matters.
You find a pair of jeans you like, you try them on and they fit you well. You feel comfortable in them and you will probably wear them all the time. However, you can’t help thinking that you might find a better one. You might buy them anyway and then buy other pairs that might have other features even though they have the same purpose - and in this case you buy more than you need. Or you experience decision paralysis and becomes unhappy with your choices . Sheena Iyengar found that there are circumstances where adding options reduces the likelihood that people will select any, where the decision is trivial (like buying jeans) to very significant (like choosing a life partner).
According to Schwartz, too much choice forces us to invest time, energy, self doubt and dread to each decision, leaving us feeling more constrained than liberated at the same time which overwhelms and leads our brain to exhaustion.
Too many choices for goods and services can make people miserable. There is no easy way to manage our expectations, satisfaction or decision making process. The key is to simplify life.
Comoditi try to make choices simpler by offering just four different styles of premium selvedge jeans for men.
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