Is choice making people miserable?

Barry Schwartz in this The Paradox of Choice argues that choice doesn’t always make people happy.

Why choice makes people miserable?

1. Regret and anticipated regret

2. Opportunity costs

3. Escalation of expectations

4. Self-blame

He points out the The Official Dogma:

– Maximize welfare

– This means maximize freedom

– This means maximize choice

– More choice means more freedom

– More freedom means more welfare


He argues that some choice is better than none, but more choices could make people miserable.

I think it depends on what choices are available, and our previous experiences with the choices we have for commodities or service.  This is a personal preference, and so I don’t think an universal or generalized “answer” would provide a unique solution to all.

I would like to quote education and learning as an example.

Would the provision of choices of education make me feel more satisfied or miserable?

The question is what are those choices of education?  For instance, if you have been given choice to choose on public education, private education, self-education and a blend of the above, what would you choose?

If there are choices of MOOCs – the connectivist MOOCs, the instructivist (or behavioral/cognitivist) MOOC like Coursera, Udacity, edX or a traditional open online course, or an open online course with MIT, Stanford, or Harvard, or self-education, what would you choose?  Would this depend on what you need, and what you could afford?  Would you be happier to have those multiple choices, and not a single choice?

My experience with my education is: the limited choice of units, courses, modes of study, or type of institutions would unlikely make me happy, but if there are too much choices, then I might need some advice or help from the institution, or others who have the experience, or wisdom, in order to make a wise decision.   Would such choice make me feel miserable?  May be some confusion, mainly due to the overwhelming information, and choices, but not always that negative, as making decision is part of the learning.  No pain, no gain.

As pointed out by Jason in a post relating to self-education:

But what school often fails to teach is the ability to think for yourself and outside of the social and political system it serves. This is especially problematic at a time when the explosion of blogs and information sources online has seriously muddied the journalistic waters. Readers today are subjected to a barrage of opinion, misinformation, and disinformation, and it’s up to us to sort it all out. For this we need highly sophisticated critical faculties and a healthy dose of skepticism.

That is why people have to keep on self-educating, even after the completion of formal education, in order to continue in learning how to learn in a changing landscape of information, and to question and challenge the assumptions even those long-held views or traditions.

Being disappointed with oneself in making a wrong decision is then also part of the learning process, rather than a failure in life.  Happiness could be a subjective feeling, especially when one sees choice as part of the game in life.  Life with limited choice is like fish living in a fish bowl, as Barry cited.

Photo: credit from Google

To this end, is the lowering of expectation important in ensuring happiness?  As Barry mentioned: if you want to be happy, lower your expectations.   There are certain things that would lead to happiness, but may be the lowering of expectations would lead to a lowering of ones’ dream or aspirations or motivation, so it might lead to temporary relief of the craving for higher achievement, and thus be more “happy” as a result.  However, this sort of happiness due to low expectations may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, signalling that we could be happier if our expectations are lowered when it is time to do so.

Would the provision of choices of learning makes me feel more satisfied or miserable?

I still think self-directed learning, as revealed in the Connectivist MOOCs would be most satisfying, especially when such choices are offered, not “mandated”.  But, this may not be the choice for everyone, especially the novices, or students who didn’t know or like to consider the choices, due to various reasons,  like a lack of awareness of learning opportunities, or poor access to those technology or media.

I would surely think more informed and wise choice would make me more satisfied, whereas limited choice wouldn’t make me happy.

How about you?


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