the paradox of choice: a review

I guess I’ve consumed this on multiple levels. Barry Schwartz has come to speak to the faculty at the school where I teach. In both the book and his talks, Schwartz relies heavily on truths revealed in cartoons from The New Yorker. Consistent with the audience of The New Yorker, it’s all about how to be happier in your middle to upper middle class affluent American lifestyle. I would like three things more from this book:
a. a more comprehensive look at how choice, control, and anxiety contribute to depression and other issues of mental health. How do Schwartz’s recommendations compare to other treatments, like cognitive behaviorism?
b. At one point, Schwartz holds up the Amish as an example of a people who has less choice in their lives, but much more satisfaction with the lives they lead. What about the period in the Amish adolescent’s life when they choose to remain in the community or leave? And furthermore, what about religion as a source of guidance to refine the choices we do make? Embracing the faith your parents gave you, if you are so lucky, could give some measure of lifestyle guidance in the same sense that the Amish have in their community.
c. Finally, I would have appreciated a sense of questioning that middle class American lifestyle that is causing so much anxiety. Instead of making the same decisions in a smarter manner or not at all, why not advocate a much more radical position? If guidelines remove the need to make the same decisions over and over again, why not recommend rules like local eating and the 100 mile diet, or do not create paper waste? Sticking to rules like that can not only reduce anxiety about everyday decisions according to Schwartz’s recommendations, but also have positive impacts for the environments or the rest of the population who are not so fortunate to live the middle class American lifestyle.
As it is, I find the focus of this book too narrow to be worthwhile. As he explained in the chapter on investments in decision making, my life would have been simpler and filled with less anxiety if I had just closed the book after 200 pages. But, being invested by 200 pages worth, I pressed on in hopes of redeeming my investment only to be disappointed in the end.

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