The Paradox of Choice - The Bipolar Question of the Week

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Have you bought something recently? I did and I’m exhausted. The other week, I invested in an iPad 3. If you go to an Apple store, you will see the iPad 2 and the iPad 4 on display, but not an iPad 3. Apple doesn’t sell them. But they may be selling refurbished models on their website at a considerable discount to a near-equivalent iPad 4. Easy as pie, right?


    The iPads 3 and 4 have retina display. The iPad 2 doesn’t. Apparently, this is very important. All models come in two sizes, with a range of storage options. Plus cellular connection or not, not to mention color. 


    That’s the easy stuff. What drove my iPad purchase was the fact that my laptop needed replacing. Could I get an iPad instead? Or should I forget the iPad and invest in a laptop? Say one of those paper-thin ones Apple is making? Decisions, decisions. Between my desktop at one end and my iPhone at the other, how was I going to fill in the space in the middle? iPad? Laptop? Laptop and an iPad?

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    Decisions, decisions ...


    Getting my iPad wasn’t the end of the story. Once I got the thing out of its box, I decided it would be nice if I got a wireless speaker. The $59 one or the $595 one? Or the zillion and two models in between? I found myself doing more research for a supposedly simple purchase than for most of the courses I took in college. Trust me, I would be a lot happier with a choice of just three. Speaking of which ...


    A few months ago, I came across a TED talk, The Paradox of Choice, by psychologist Barry Schwartz. Here’s the deal. We equate choice with freedom and freedom with happiness. Not so fast, says Dr Schwartz. True, having choices can be liberating, but consider ...


    There are 175 varieties of salad dressings in Dr Schwartz’s not-very-large supermarket, not counting the 10 extra-virgin olive oils and 12 balsamic vinegars to make your own salad dressing on the off-chance than none of the 175 salad dressings on offer suits you.


    It gets worse. Go into a consumer electronics store and you have a choice of 6.5 million sound systems. (This was in 2005. It’s undoubtedly a lot higher now.) It isn’t just about shopping. It’s about what we want to do with our lives and how we fill in the time. We are so weighed down with choice that we enter a state of paralysis, where we often choose not to choose (it’s often easier this way). 


    And if we do make the effort, we tend to be dissatisfied with the outcome. After all, with so many choices out there, it’s very easy to convince ourselves we made the wrong one. Says Dr Schwartz, the more options there are, the easier it is to regret the option you chose.


    Could this same analysis apply to the meds we are on? Think back to the days when lithium was our only choice. Coincidentally, those were the days when lithium produced far better outcomes. Food for thought ...


    So here I am, with my new iPad, with a new wireless speaker on the way. I should be happy, right? Don’t count on it.


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    Question: Your own experience with making a choice. Were you happy with the experience? Were you happy with the outcome?


    Comments below ... 


Published On: June 09, 2013