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Book:  The Paradox of Choice

Author:  Barry Schwartz

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Schwartz, B. (2016). The paradox of choice : why more is less. New York: Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. What we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experiences felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended. This "peak-end" rule is what we use to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves on how the experience felt. The summaries influence our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasted, have almost no influence on our memory of it. It turns out that our predictions about how we will feel after an experience as well as how we did feel during an experience are very accurate. Yet it is memories of the past and expectations for the future that govern our choices. (pg. 49)

  2. There is an idea of maximizers vs. satisficers. Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better. A satisficer has criteria and standards. She searches until she finds an item that meets those standards, and at that point, she stops. To a maximizer, satisficers appear to be willing to settle for mediocrity, but that is not the case. The difference between the two types is that the satisficer is content with the merely excellent as opposed to the absolute best. The goal of maximizing is a source of great dissatisfaction, that it can make people miserable - especially in a world that insists on providing an overwhelming number of choices. (pg. 77)

  3. Adaptation means that we get used to things, and then we start to take them for granted. Because of adaptation, enthusiasm about positive experiences doesn't sustain itself. And what's worst, people seem generally unable to anticipate that this process of adaptation will take place. The waning of pleasure or enjoyment over time always seems to come as an unpleasant surprise. The disappointment is especially severe when we consume cars, houses, clothes, etc. When the period of real enthusiasm wanes, people still have these things around - a reminder that consumption isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that expectations are not matched by reality. Adaptation to positive experiences would be difficult enough if we knew it was coming. But oddly enough, the evidence indicates that we tend to be surprised by it. Human beings are remarkably bad at predicting how various experiences will make them feel. (pg. 167)


Other Key Ideas:​

As long as we include social interactions in our information gathering, and as long as our sources of information are diverse, we can probably steer clear of the worst pitfalls. Keep in mind that group predictions are better than the predictions of any one individual. (pg. 60)

The "law of diminishing utility" teaches us a couple things. First as the rich get richer, each additional unit of wealth satisfies them less. Second, losing $100 produces a feeling of negativity that is more intense than the feelings of elation produced by a gain. Some studies have estimated that losses have more than twice the psychological impact as equivalent gains. The fact is, we all hate to lose - something that is called "loss aversion." (pg. 69)

The only opportunity costs that should figure into a decision are the ones associated with the next-best alternative. So let's say you have six options for what you could do on a Saturday night. If you choose your number one option - go to dinner - you should only compare the opportunity cost to your number two option - go to a movie. Pay attention to what you're giving up in the next best alternative, but don't waste energy feeling bad about having passed up an option further down the list. The more we think about all of the options (as opposed to just #1 vs. #2), the greater our experience of the opportunity costs, and the less satisfaction we will derive from our choice. (pg. 121)

It's easy to succumb to sunk-costs effects in a variety of settings. You have clothes in your closet that you know you will not wear again. Yet you can't get rid of them. When you're 200 pages into a book, you force yourself to finish it, no matter how little you are enjoying it. Many people persist in troubled relationships because of all the time and effort they're already put in. (pg. 161)

We could go a long way if we could find a way to stop the process of adaptation. But adaptation is such a hardwired property of our nervous system that there is very little we can do to mitigate it directly. However, simply being aware of the process we can anticipate its effects, and therefore be less disappointed when it comes. This means when we are making decisions we should think about how each of the options will feel not just tomorrow, but months or even years later. Factoring in adaptation to the decision-making process may make differences that seem large at the moment of choice feel much smaller. (pg. 178)

High expectations can be counterproductive. We probably can do more to affect the quality of our lives by controlling our expectations than we can by doing virtually anything else. The blessing of modest expectations is that they leave room for many experiences to be a pleasant surprise. The challenge is to find a way to keep expectations modest, even as actual experiences keep getting better. The key to achieving this goal is by keeping wonderful experiences rare. No matter what you can afford, create special occasions. It's a way you can continue to experience pleasure. (pg. 187)

Though social comparison is seemingly all-pervasive, it appears that not everyone pays attention to it, or at least, not everyone is affected by it. Happy people have the ability to distract themselves and move on, whereas unhappy people get stuck ruminating and make themselves more and more miserable. (pg. 194)

To help you avoid the disappointment that comes with opportunity costs, here are a few tips: 1) Unless you're truly dissatisfied, stick with what you always buy. 2) Don't be tempted by new and improved. and 3) Don't worry that if you do something, you'll miss out on all the new things the world has to offer. (pg. 228)

Experiencing gratitude is an important practice. Take the time to write down five things that you are grateful for. This could be at night or during the mornings. You will probably feel a little silly at first, but as you keep it up you will find that it gets easier and more natural. You may find yourself discovering many things to be grateful for on even the most ordinary days. Also, you may find yourself feeling better about your life as it is, and less driven to find the "new and improved" products and activities that will enhance it. (pg. 230)

Keep in mind that the luxury car and the huge house won't keep providing the pleasure they give when we first experience them. Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into mere comforts will ease disappointment with adaptation when it occurs. You can also reduce disappointment from adaptation by spending less time and energy researching and agonizing over decisions. (pg. 232)

Routine decisions take so much time and attention that it becomes difficult to get through the day. We should learn to view limits on possibilities as liberating not constraining. By deciding to follow a rule, we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don't apply. (pg. 235)

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