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Eartheasy Book Review:

The Paradox of Choice
       by Barry Schwartz


Canadian residents, click this link to purchase:

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less


An integral part of the American Dream is the freedom to choose. And with the unparalleled growth of the North American economy over the past 50 years, we now face an unprecedented array of options and opportunities which span the full spectrum of our lifestyle, from consumer choices to education, employment, social and even lifestyle choices.

The benefits of so much choice are obvious, as we find goods and preferences tailored to suit our every need. However, the growth of options and opportunities for choice have several negative effects:
- decisions require more effort
- mistakes are more likely to be made
- psychological consequences of mistakes are more severe

As choices increase, so does the tendency to want to make the best choice. Yet this tendency increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and stress. There comes a point at which opportunities become so numerous that we feel overwhelmed.

"The average American sees 3000 ads per day."

In general, people living in rich countries are happier than people living in poor countries. However, once a society's level of per capita wealth crosses a threshold from poverty to adequate subsistence, further increases in wealth have almost no effect on happiness. What seems to be the most important factor in providing personal happiness is close social relations, not personal wealth.

"93% of teenage girls say shopping is their favorite activity."

The author describes how we can find ourselves on a "hedonic treadmill", as we quickly adapt to excitement of new consumer goods, instilling a need to buy more. When the instant thrill wears off, our tendency is to buy more to replace the thrill. Social pressure also encourages us to stay 'positioned' in society, yet the personal benefit is dubious. Like being in a crowded football stadium watching a crucial play - someone in the front row stands to get a better view. This sets off a chain reaction. Soon everyone is standing just to be able to see as well as before, but no one's postion has improved. Positional goals keep us in the rat race, often at the cost of higher personal priorities.

In our society, we get what we say we want, only to discover that what we want doesn't satisfy us to the degree we expect. We are surrounded by time-saving devices, and yet we never seem to have enough time.

Throughout the book, the author develops these points in an engaging, easy to read style, and backs up his findings with considerable scientific evidence. Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion of choice - from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family and individual needs - has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Understanding how this excess of choice is detrimental to our well-being, carefully developed throughout this book, is essential to eliminating the inherent stress and anxiety.

As our understanding of this dilemma grows, a prescription becomes available. Schwartz offers eleven steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the disicipline to focus on those that are important and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices we have to make. This solution is within reach, but requires practice, discipline and perhaps a new way of thinking.

The Paradox of Choice is essential reading, as it identifies the root cause of wasteful consumerism, and offers a well-reasoned approach to finding more meaning and value in our day to day lives. Schwartz presents us with a basic understanding which empowers us to live morepurposeful and sustainable lifestyles.

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Barry Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He is the author of several books, including The Battle for Human Nature: Morality and Modern Life and The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life. His articles have appeared in many of the leading journals in his field, including the American Psychologist. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

reviewed by:
Greg Seaman
Publisher, Eartheasy.com


The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz

To purchase this book online at Amazon, click this button:

Canadian residents, click this link to purchase: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
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