On the Pleasures of Schwartz

I’ve been meaning to do this for months, and no—after a long delay—I finally get to write this recommendation of a book, authored by Barry Schwartz, entitled The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (How the Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction).

What I love about this book—apart from the profound simplicity of its insights—is its relevance and practicality for an era that has b—–d incessantly (albeit philosophically) about the trials and ordeals resulting from the proliferation of choice, on the one hand, and the disappearance of traditional guidelines for making such choices, on the other. We live in age when we have exponentially more choices (i.e., more options) in exponentially more areas (e.g., location, career, identity, spirituality, etc.) than at any other period in the past. (In the past, not only did people have fewer choices—in some areas they didn’t have a choice entirely for certain things were decided by default: people lived where they were born, worshipped at the church their parents did, married the person next door, worked at the first company that hired them, and so on and so forth).

At the same time, we have significantly less guidance (e.g., less trust in government or religion or any other institution) on selecting among the ever-expanding array of alternatives. The result: people like me who’ve explored multiple degrees, careers, residences, faiths and lifestyles just hoping (desperately) to find something that fits—and possibly growing more disillusioned and depressed in the process.

Which is where Mr. Schwartz’s book enters the picture. In 256 engaging and enjoyable pages, he outlines how we choose and when exactly choice starts becoming a bane rather than a boon. And, in a final chapter that greatly satisfies the pragmatic checklist-er in me, he summarizes eleven strategies people can use to live with the contemporary paradox of choice. While I haven’t followed every single one (simply because I can’t hold eleven things in my head at the same time), the few that I have followed have contributed to a greatly enhanced quality and experience of life.

Of course, for those of you who don’t experience choice as a burden, allow me to practice what Mr. Schwartz preaches and make the choice for you: don’t read it—you’ve got other things to think about.


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