Having More Options

Are We Happier When We Have More Options?


OK, misconception number five – who doesn’t like to have lots of choices, right? Like, say, for example, salad dressing.


BARRY SCHWARTZ: I want to say just a word about salad dressing.

RAZ: This is Barry Schwartz. A social psychologist, and this is from his TED talk…


SCHWARTZ: A hundred and seventy-five salad dressings in my supermarket, if you don’t count the 10 extra virgin olive oils and 12 balsamic vinegars you could buy to make a very large number of your own salad dressings in the off-chance that none of the 175 the store has on offer suit you.

RAZ: Which is what it’s all about. Why we are happy, why we live more fulfilling lives because of our limitless choices.


SCHWARTZ: The official dogma of all Western industrial societies runs like this – if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice people have, the more freedom they have. And the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have. This, I think, is so deeply embedded in the water supply that it wouldn’t occur to anybody it is not true.

RAZ: How – how can that be? I mean, choice is what we all want, right? I mean, choice is a good thing.

SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, and it is a good thing. People want control, they want autonomy. The mistake that we’ve made is to think that since choice is good, it’s only good.


SCHWARTZ: So I’m going to talk about what’s bad about it. One affect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all. I’ll give you one very dramatic example of this – a study that was done of investments in voluntary retirement plans. A colleague of mine got access to investment records from Vanguard, the gigantic mutual fund company of about a million employees and about 2,000 different workplaces.

And what she found is that for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, rate of participation went down 2 percent. You offer 50 funds, 10 percent fewer employees participate than if you only offer five. Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose that you’ll just put it off till tomorrow, and then tomorrow and, of course, tomorrow never comes. So that’s one of affect. The second affect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice then we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.

RAZ: Too much choice actually makes us less free. Its paralysis rather than liberation, which sounds…

SCHWARTZ: That’s right.

RAZ: …It sounds crazy.

SCHWARTZ: It does sound crazy. I mean, imagine you have cereal for breakfast every morning and you alternate between Rice Krispies and Corn Chex.


SCHWARTZ: I don’t like Rice Krispies and Corn Chex, the fact that there are alternatives makes my life better.

RAZ: Right.

SCHWARTZ: And so the logic here is that when you add options, you don’t make anybody worse off because you can ignore them, and you make somebody better off.

RAZ: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: And that’s perfectly sensible, logically. It just turns out not to be true psychologically.


SCHWARTZ: This hit me when I went to replace my jeans after years and years of wearing these old ones. And the shopkeeper said do you want slim-fit, easy-fit, relaxed-fit? You want button fly or zipper fly? You want stonewashed or acid washed? You want them distressed? Do you want boot-cut. Do you want tapered? Blah, blah, blah. On and on he went. My jaw dropped and after I recovered I said I want the kind that used to be the only kind. He had no idea what that was. So I spent an hour trying on all these damn jeans and I walked out of the store, truth, with the best-fitting jeans I had ever had. I did better, but I felt worse. Why? I wrote a whole book to try to explain this to myself. The reason is that with all of these options available, my expectations about how good a pair of jeans should be went up. And what I got was good, but it wasn’t perfect.

RAZ: So here’s the thing, I hear that and I’m thinking, OK, this is about as American as it gets, right? I mean, you can choose whatever you want. You can do anything you want.

SCHWARTZ: Exactly so. So there’s a cartoon that I show often, when I give talks, of a fishbowl. Your typical goldfish bowl. And there’s a parent fish and a baby fish. And the caption reads you can be anything you want to be, no limits. Right, you know, we’re supposed to laugh at the myopia of the parent fish – no limits – in a fishbowl that has nothing in it. But I think the deep insight is that everybody needs a fishbowl. So when you shatter the fishbowl, and my argument is that’s sort of what 21st century affluent Western society is like, when you shatter the fishbowl and everything is possible, is that a good thing? And the answer, surprisingly to the assumptions we make, is that, no, it’s not a good thing. Choice within constraint is essential. Choice without constraint is paralyzing.


SCHWARTZ: So there’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. Nowadays, the world we live in, we affluent industrialized citizens with perfection the expectation, the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be. You will never be pleasantly surprised because your expectations, my expeditions, have gone through the roof. The secret to happiness – this is what you all came for – the secret to happiness is low expectations.


SCHWARTZ: Then there was this nervous laughter. But that seemed maybe a little too pessimistic. So let me say the secret to happiness is to have realistic expectations. And if you’re going to err, err on the low side. It’s really nice to be pleasantly surprised. It sucks to be disappointed.

RAZ: Barry Schwartz, he’s a psychologist who wrote a book called “The Paradox of Choice.” You can find his entire talk at TED.com. So if you could pick the perfect, like, the optimum number of salad dressings, right, on the shelf, what would it be?

SCHWARTZ: There’s a little bit of research on this and it suggests that somewhere around 6 to 10.

RAZ: Six to 10?

SCHWARTZ: Yes. Somewhere between 6 and 10 everybody seems to be able to find one that they’re satisfied with.


RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to the show on misconceptions this week. If you missed any of it or if you want to hear more, if you want to find out more about who was on it, you can check out TED.NPR.org. You can also find many more TED talks at TED.com. And you can download this show through iTunes or through the NPR smartphone app. I’m Guy Raz. You’ve been listening to ideas worth spreading on the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

Continue reading…


Key Terms…
  • misconception ↔ concepção errada
  • salad dressing ↔ molho para salada
  • olive oils ↔ azeites
  • in the off-chance that ↔ na possibilidade que (hipótese improvável ou remota)
  • has on offer ↔ tem para oferecer
  • suit you ↔ combina com você
  • fulfilling ↔ gratificante, recompensador
  • limitless choices ↔ opções ilimitadas
  • welfare ↔ bem-estar
  • citizens ↔ cidadãos
  • choice ↔ escolha
  • so deeply embedded ↔ tão profundamente enraizada
  • water supply ↔ abastecimento de água (no sentido de “senso comum”)
  • retirement plans ↔ planos de aposentadoria
  • rate of participation ↔ taxa de participação
  • so damn hard ↔ tão dificil
  • put it off ↔ o adiar
  • manage to overcome ↔ conseguimos superar
  • we end up ↔ acabamos
  • regret ↔ lamentar
  • disappointing ↔ decepcionante
  • make anybody worse off ↔ fazer alguém em pior situação
  • It just turns out not to be true ↔ Só que acontece que não é de verdade
  • This hit me when ↔ Percebi isso quando
  • shopkeeper ↔ lojista
  • easy-fit ↔ (see picture)
  • button fly ↔ (see picture)
  • went up ↔ subiu
  • fishbowl ↔ aquário
  • insight ↔ entendimento, discernimento
  • shatter ↔ estilhaçar
  • Choice within constraint ↔ Escolha dentro de restrição
  • there’s no question ↔ não há dúvida
  • pleasantly surprised ↔ agradavelmente surpreendido
  • It sucks to be disappointed ↔ É chato ficar desapontado


misconception concepção errada
Isso foi um grande equívoco ↔That was a big misconception
has on offer tem para oferecer
The next day, it was time to look at two of the greatest gardens this country has on offer.  
Livraria Online Informática oferece uma vasta gama de informações da literatura. ↔Online bookstore Informatics has on offer a wide range of literature about this.
suit you combina com você
Searching, locating and finding a car that will suit you takes a lot of effort.  
Why would you tell another country to change its law because it does not suit you?  
Seleccione o que melhor se adapta ao seu trabalho. ↔Select the ones that suit you best.
Tome a iniciativa você mesmo e procure vagas adequadas ao seu perfil. ↔Take the initiative yourself and search for job openings that suit you.
choice escolha
choice n.choose v. (present)chose v. (past)
put it off o adiar
Não é possível continuar a adiá­la por mais tempo. ↔We cannot put it off any longer.
regret lamentar
You won’t regret it. ↔Você não o lamentará.
I regret missing the speech. ↔Eu me arrependo de ter perdido o discurso.
make anybody worse off fazer alguém em pior situação
Americans are becomming worse off, and some people don’t want this talked about.  
If you redistribute wealth some people will be worse off and others better off.  
Os consumidores e os prestadores de serviços serão os mais prejudicados com esse facto. ↔Both consumers and service providers will be worse off for this.
It just turns out not to be true Só que acontece que não é de verdade
Nalguns casos o equipamento de monitorização acaba por se revelar como não adequado para o fim de monitorizar o desempenho do projecto. ↔In some cases the monitoring equipment turns out not to be suitable for the purpose of monitoring project performance.
easy-fit (see picture)
button fly (see picture)


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