The Paradox of Choice (by Barry Schwartz)

Today’s monday musing post is inspired by my weekend reading. A dear friend recommended the book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” by Barry Schwartz (Sub-title: How the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction).

While I’m still reading the book, I simply had to write about  the chapter ” when only the best will do “.

Barry defines two types of people:
Maximizer: If you seek and accept only the best. These types need to be assured that every purchase or decision is the best. This is especially hard to do if you have hundreds of choices. (example, cars, clothes, etc) To make a simple purchase of a sweater can then become a daunting treasure hunt  as they go through store after store in their goal to find the best sweater.
Satisficer: If you settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better. These types have criteria and standards and if they find an item that fits the standards than at that time they stop. If the sweater is in the style, color, size, they are looking for in the very first store then their work is done.

As he notes, no one is an absolute of either type…but if they are leaning towards the maximizer type they are likely to spend way more time and effort on finding an item and when they eventually buy it, they will always have doubts and second guess themselves …in the end deriving less satisfaction out of the purchase since they always wonder if there is something better out there. Being a satisficer does not mean that they are willing to settle for average, it just means that they are satisfied as he says “with merely the excellent as opposed to the absolute best”. In this modern day, it has become impossible to know that you have the absolute best, since there will always be a newer, better model of any item you buy.

Barry has a quiz in his chapter where I ranked as a satisficer. My husband on the other hand has maximizing tendencies. I’ve been thinking about my decisions in life and tried to decide where I’m more of a satisficer (most things) vs a maximizer (mostly food).

Areas in which I’m more of a maximizer:
Dining out: I really enjoy dining at high-end places though I save it for special occassions.
Groceries: I will pay more to buy organic or local and I do not hesitate in buying gourmet cheeses or pricey mushrooms.
Chocolates: I do not enjoy 90% of convenience chocolates but will indulge in gourmet creations to the point of gluttony.
Commute: I like to have the shortest possible distance to travel when going to work.

Areas in which I’m more of a satisficer:
Cultural experiences: It is more important to see a show or concert than it is to get the front orchestra seats.
Clothes: As long as they fit, wear well and suit my style, I’m happy.
Travel: I’m not a luxury traveler, no 5 star+ hotels. I spend most of my time and money at favorite local food haunts.
Home: We’ve realized that ~750 sq ft or one bedroom apartment is more than enough for our needs and that if we ever decide to buy a place we won’t go more than 1000 sq ft or two bedrooms.

I’m rather convinced that working on being a satisficer (i.e. having criteria define your satisfaction) will allow more happiness into your life. The less time and money you spend on searching for the best, the more you can enjoy what is already yours.

Some thoughts by other bloggers on this topic:
The Happiness Project
Between Living and Existing
And if you are interested in reading Barry’ study.

Share your thoughts in the comments. Are you more of a maximizer or satisficer? Which areas are your maximizing focus?

3 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice (by Barry Schwartz)

  1. My mother put up a little “Life’s Lessons” on the bathroom wall, and one of the lessons was “strive for excellence, not perfection”. I completely agree that you should enjoy what have, rather than envy those that have better, and if you keep your standards high, you’ll never find yourself wanting.

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