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September 23, 2014 12:01 AM EDT
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You love having lots of choices.

But having more choices isn’t always a good thing — ever see so many good options that you end up picking… nothing?

Barry Schwartz has spent a great deal of time researching this issue and in his excellent book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less he explains how we can make ourselves happier and more fulfilled by reducing choice.

What are the 5 steps?

  1. We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.
  2. We would be better off seeking what was “good enough” instead of seeking the best (have you ever heard a parent say “I want only the ‘good enough’ for my kids”?)
  3. We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions.
  4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible
  5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing.

So what do these mean?

1) We love choices. Research shows people prefer freedom and autonomy over money. But too much choice overwhelms us, leads to second guessing and makes us unhappy. But we rarely admit that. Having too many choices is stressful. Constraints help.

2) A maximizer is someone who researches, comparison shops and works hard to make sure they get the absolute very best. A satisficer is someone who is happy with good enough. Which is the better strategy? Maximizing may give better objective results — but makes us unhappier in the end.

In most areas of life, settling produces more happiness.

3) Keeping your expectations under control is smart thinking. Optimism is good, but keep an even keel. Schwartz explains:

Via The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less:

4) We often want to leave our options open but that makes us prone to second guessing. We forget how powerful our ability to rationalize after the fact is and we fear regret. However, research shows when decisions are not reversible we adapt to them quicker, move on faster and are happier with our lives.

5) Comparing yourself to others can seriously reduce your happiness. Schwartz explains:

Via The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less:

Lastly, something Schwartz mentions in the book really made me stop and think. He quotes Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties saying:

Being aware of that — all the time — is incredibly stressful. Paralyzing.

Doesn’t sound like a prescription for happiness to me.

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