More on Less is More

November 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Once again, I’m trumpeting the truth that, yes folks, less IS more.

In his July 2005 Ted Talk, psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Instead of boosting our self-esteem, enhancing the quality of  our choices and promoting self-actualization and civility, this expert on the links between economics and psychology claim is that it yields:

1. Paralysis, not liberation.

2.  Dissatisfaction with the choice made (because the known options make it easier to regret the option you choose against ).

3. Dissatisfaction with even high quality results (because the heightened expectations that have been created make “pleasant surprises” less frequent and our perceived bar for success unduly high).

4. Depression and self-blame.  When experiences don’t meet our expectations, we find a way to blame ourselves and that makes us feel bad.

Schwartz connects our obsession with more  — more choices, more options, more things — as an outgrowth of an affluent society.  I would add that these are outgrowths of a consumerist society…and yes, plain ol’ greed that underlies our capitalist value system. (See The Story of Stuff for more on this).

Instead of more choice leading us toward freedom, it actually enslaves us.  Instead of so much more being better, some more and even less, may indeed be best.

Check out his Ted Talk here:

What does this call up and out in you? What are the implications for your life, work, eh…strategic planning, and how we go about rewarding accomplishment, setting goals and teaching our children?

No Comments

  • Curtis says:

    Just had a real experience of this in Maine. In a small town, with fewer (but all of the essential) options, life just somehow makes more sense. It makes you realize how some of our choices are really choices among equal and extraneous options that make no demonstrable difference to the quality of our lives. A time like ours really calls on the ideas such as E.F. Schmacher’s “enoughness” – “consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (and one might add, the minimum of choice, perhaps).

  • Cynthia says:

    I’m reminded of the experience of parenting-especially when my kids were younger. After a full day of adventure, the next day the kids are up for something else. I would say, wasn’t yesterday good? But, being very much in the present, they were not impressed with yesterday or tomorrow’s plans!

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