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The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice simply summarized: Happier is he who relinquishes freedoms for the sake of wrapping himself in relationships. May his decisions be swift and without return lest he fritter away his energies on endlessly fishing for bigger fish.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz has empowered me to take action in decisions where I was previously stuck. It has given me the courage to tell myself, “What does it matter? Just choose and be content.” 

There is no room for contemplative, deliberative, analytical decision makers in the common everyday life choices. Such choices—what to order at a restaurant, what to wear to work, how to phrase my questions, what to do for Mother’s Day—become burdensome when I believe that a perfect option is awaiting my discovery, and when I make that perfect choice, I will be completely satisfied.

I call out that lie. It reeks of consumerism. 

American advertising has declared war on my satisfaction. It has been doing so since the day my eyes could focus on billboards and magazine ads. We do not live in a country, an age, a planet rather, that lets us be. I can’t escape their phone calls, their knocks on my doors, their pop-ups on my computer screen. They yell at me, “What you have could be better!”

Perhaps if we lived in a rural town without internet, without magazines in our mailboxes, and without television showing us how the wealthiest live, perhaps then we would be content with the result of our simple choices.

But no. Our race is backwards. Our very hearts won’t let us alone because what we don’t have is always more beautiful than what we have. The fruit is good for food, lovely to look at, and will make us wise. 

It’s called envy. We don’t learn it. We’re born it.

The Paradox of Choice doesn’t teach contentment. Schwartz wasn’t intending to prescribe medicine for our hearts. Instead, he describes the sickness: self-doubt, anxiety, dread.

We’ve been given far too much freedom. We can choose where to live, where to work, who to marry, how many children to have, how to save for retirement, what friends to keep, what friends to unfriend, what doctor to see, what treatment to request, how to marry, how to bury. We’ve been given the opportunity to be the author of our lives and to make them meaningful and significant (Schwartz, 3).

We’ve been offered the role of God, and we’ve found it weighty indeed. 

More than that, we’ve taken hold of the reigns and found the horses to be beyond our control. We’ve been weighed and found wanting. We don’t have the knowledge to choose what’s best for ourselves. We hardly know ourselves at all, which sure explains why we like taking personality tests, going to psychiatrists, and seeking out the perfect fit in attire and tastes.

We used to know ourselves in relationship to the people around us. Now we know ourselves by our independence, this hideous conglomeration of whims and weaknesses all compiled together in a Tower of Babel that’s trying to look different, and by different I mean better than our neighbors. How sickeningly similar we all turned out.

Freedom of choice is not the devil. The liar is the devil. And he is telling us that perfect contentment can be had through our right choices. Call it out. It is false. Contentment cannot be had with this heart. We need new ones. Everyday we need new ones. Perfect, whole, sinless new ones. Bathed in a spirit, a holy one that is whispering truths to combat the lies. 

Truth: No job, product, lover, or form of entertainment will continue to fuel that thrill as had when first acquired. The new will become the normal, and you will go seeking for another dose elsewhere. 

Truth: Our families, friends, and coworkers are not mistakes. They are ours to boil away the dross, to tie us up, take our freedoms so that we haven’t the chance to think ourselves perfect masters of our lives.

Truth: Contentment grows from gratitude, that sweet assurance that regardless of your choice, you are not the author of your story. The results, no matter what you choose, are still making that glorious story sing, “Holy, holy, holy.” And that is good. 

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice New York: Harper Collins. 2004. Print.


MommaMina said…
Daddy says, "Like Grandma Taylor always says, 'A key to contentment is wanting what you have.'"
Grandma Seelye said…
Very good! 1Tim.6:6,7 But godliness with contentment is great gain.For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it.
Wilson Family said…
Great thoughts Abby! I'd like to read that book!

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