To choose or not to choose? That is the question


by Karen Topakian

Where would we be in America without our freedom of choice? It’s a god given right. Right?

We can choose where we want to live, providing we can afford the rent or mortgage. Choose what to wear. Choose what to eat. Choose what to drive.

All in the name of the pursuit of happiness. An unalienable right of man. According to the Declaration of Independence.

But what if our personal freedoms weren’t the key to happiness?

Scientists Hazel Rose Markus and Barry Schwartz at Stanford and Swarthmore respectively, recently released a report for publication this year in the Journal of Consumer Research stating that all of that choice doesn’t necessarily buy us happiness. 

“The picture presented by a half-century of research may present an accurate picture of the psychological importance of choice, freedom, and autonomy among middle-class, college-educated Americans, but this is a picture that leaves about 95 percent of the world’s population outside its frame,” say the researchers.

How could the world view of middle-class college educated Americans not represent everyone else’s on the planet? Aren’t we the most evolved life form?

Apparently choice can paralyze us. Make us less empathetic. Because we focus on our own choices at the expense of the preferences of others and of our society. Sounds pretty selfish to me. And we would never choose to be selfish, would we?

On the other hand, academic authors Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder and Peter M. Todd from University of Basel, University of Mannheim and Indiana University respectively, studied 50 published and unpublished experiments that investigated choice overload. Their meta-analysis indicated that consumers generally respond positively to having many choices. They “found no empirical evidence for choice overload and sometimes even found that more choices instead facilitate choice and increase satisfaction.”

Now I don’t know which study to choose? The one that will paralyze and depress me or the one that will increase my satisfaction.


  1. Karen,

    Nice article on choice and happiness. Just after reading, I started reflecting on other questions: What brings me joy and happiness? What experiences have I had where choices have given me happiness or, on the other end of the spectrum, more stress/ a sense of being overwhelmed? The other word that comes to mind: opportunity. Does having more choices mean I have more opportunities? Then, I start going back to the question of: how clear am I on what I want, what life I want to live, and in what ways have my intentions and goals been kept in mind when I make daily choices about work, love, hobbies, and relationships?

    Thanks for your perspective, Karen –

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