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Unformatted text preview: The Tyranny of Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But as, studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery By Barry Schwartz mericans today choose among more options in more parts of life than has ever been possible before. To an extent, the opportunity to choose enhances our lives. It is only logical to think that if some choice is good, more is better; people who care about having infinite options will benefit from them, and those who do not can always just ig- nore the 273 versions of cereal they have never tried. Yet recent re- search strongly suggests that, psycho logically, this assumption is wrong. Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less. This evidence is consistent with large-scale social trends. Assessments of well-being by various social scientists—among them, David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University—re- veal that increased choice and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being in the U.S. and most other affluent societies. As the gross domestic prod- uct more than doubled in the past 30 years, the proportion of the population describing itself as “very happy” declined by about 5 percent, or by some 14 million people. In addition, more of us than ever are clinically depressed. Of course, no one believes that a sin- gle factor explains decreased well-being, but a number of findings indicate that the explosion of choice plays an important role. Thus, it seems that as society grows wealthier and people be- come freer to do whatever they want, they get less happy. In an era of ever greater personal autonomy, choice and control, what could account for this degree of misery? Along with several colleagues, I have recently conducted re- search that offers insight into why many people end up unhappy rather than pleased when their options expand. We began by mak- ing a distinction between “maximizers” (those who always aim to make the best possible choice) and “satisficers” (those who aim for “good enough,” whether or not better selections might be out there). We borrowed the term “satisficers” from the late Nobel Prize–winning psychologist and economist Herbert A. Simon of Carnegie Mellon University. In particular, we composed a set of statements—the Maxi- mization Scale—to diagnose people’s propensity to maximize. Then we had several thousand people rate themselves from 1 to 7 (from “completely disagree” A Choice to “completely agree”) on such statements as “I never settle for second best.” We also evaluated their sense of satisfaction with their decisions....
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- Spring '07