In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.
Schwartz integrates various psychological models for happiness showing how the problem of choice can be addressed by different strategies. What is important to note is that each of these strategies comes with its own bundle of psychological complication.
- Choice and Happiness. Schwartz discusses the significance of common research methods that utilize a Happiness Scale. He sides with the opinion of psychologists David Myers and Robert Lane, who independently conclude that the current abundance of choice often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness. Schwartz draws particular attention to Lane's assertion that Americans are paying for increased affluence and freedom with a substantial decrease in the quality and quantity of community. What was once given by family, neighborhood and workplace now must be achieved and actively cultivated on an individual basis. The social fabric is no longer a birthright but has become a series of deliberated and demanding choices. Schwartz also discusses happiness with specific products. For example, he cites a study by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University who found that when participants were faced with a smaller rather than larger array of chocolates, they were actually more satisfied with their tasting.
- Freedom or Commitment. Schwartz connects this issue to economist Albert Hirschman's research into how populations respond to unhappiness: they can exit the situation, or they can protest and voice their concerns. While free-market governments give citizens the right to express their displeasure by exit, as in switching brands, Schwartz maintains that social relations are different. Instead, we usually give voice to displeasure, hoping to project influence on the situation.
- Second-Order Decisions. Law professor Cass Sunstein uses the term "second-order decisions" for decisions that follow a rule. Having the discipline to live "by the rules" eliminates countless troublesome choices in one's daily life. Schwartz shows that these second-order decisions can be divided into general categories of effectiveness for different situations: presumptions, standards, and cultural codes. Each of these methods are useful ways people use to parse the vast array of choices they confront.
- Missed Opportunities. Schwartz finds that when people are faced with having to choose one option out of many desirable choices, they will begin to consider hypothetical trade-offs. Their options are evaluated in terms of missed opportunities instead of the opportunity's potential. Schwartz maintains that one of the downsides of making trade-offs is it alters how we feel about the decisions we face; afterwards, it affects the level of satisfaction we experience from our decision. While psychologists have known for years about the harmful effects of negative emotion on decision making, Schwartz points to recent evidence showing how positive emotion has the opposite effect: in general, subjects are inclined to consider more possibilities when they are feeling happy.
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