A TED Talk A Day, Day 26: Largely based on his book of the same name, Schwartz  talk about how choices has become the holy grail of society, and how its effects are in fact counterintuitive. If anything we have more choice since this talk was given in 2005 — that was before the explosion of iPhone and touchscreen smartphones, tablets, mobile apps and social media really took off.

  1. “If want to maximise the welfare of our citizen, we maximise their freedom.” – this is what he called the “official dogma” of industrialised countries. This is because freedom is seen as good in itself, and because when people have freedom, we can decide for ourselves instead of having someone decide things for us. And the way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice.
  2. The idea that we should maximise choice is deeply embedded in our lives. Just think of supermarkets, electronics stores, and even the choice of handphones we have (and now smartphones). Even in healthcare we have a variety of choices of how to treat our conditions! We also get to choose our identity — who we want to be.
  3. Choice has two negative effects on people. First, choice causes paralysis. The more choices we have, the harder it is for us to choose. He quotes a now oft-quoted study where employees who were offered more choices in mutual funds to invest in were less likely to pick one to invest in.
  4. The second effect is that when we have more options, we are less happy even after we have made the choice. If we decide we didn’t make the best choice, it’s now easier to imagine that one of the options would have satisfied us instead, so we are less happy. Opportunity cost can detract from our choices, even if they are terrific.
  5. The explosion of choice creates greater expectations. Then we begin to expect and fixate on perfection rather than seeing that what we have is good.
  6. So… “the secret to happiness is low expectations.” Because when we have low expectations, then it increases the chances of a pleasant surprise!
  7. Additionally, when people make bad decisions, they blame themselves.
  8. Some choice is better than none, but it does not mean that more choice is better than some choice. What is harder to figure out is how much choice is the right amount.
  9. What enables choice is material affluence.
  10. The numerous choices we have not only do not work; they harm us. So what we need to limit the choices in the things we do.

Suggested action step: I will stop seeking out so many choices, and be happy with whatever I have. (This already feels hard to do as I type this.)