Barry Schwartz: Greater choice makes people less, not more, content

From a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts in London, by the US professor of social theory and social action
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The Independent Online

The question we should be thinking about is, do we care about objective results or subjective results when we are out to improve welfare? I think that once people's standard of living is above subsistence, it is usually the subjective quality of experience that really matters. What good does it do you to buy the best car made if you feel crappy having bought it? What's the gain? Who gains?

The question we should be thinking about is, do we care about objective results or subjective results when we are out to improve welfare? I think that once people's standard of living is above subsistence, it is usually the subjective quality of experience that really matters. What good does it do you to buy the best car made if you feel crappy having bought it? What's the gain? Who gains?

It's not clear that anyone gains, and so we ought to be paying an enormous amount of attention not to objective results but to subjective results. My family was vacationing in this little town on the West Coast. It had a tiny general store, and I had to go buy wine, and I went to the general store and they had five different kinds of wine - I mean a total of five different vintages/brands - so I picked one and I bought it home and no one expected it to be very good and it wasn't very good and no one was disappointed. I mean, you know the world simply wasn't going to let me bring home a good bottle of wine, and it didn't bother anybody.

Now imagine if I'd gone to a liquor store that has two or three or ten thousand different bottles to choose from and a buy one and it's much better than any I could have got at the general store, but it's not as good as we were hoping. Now not only are you disappointed, because you've had high expectations but, in addition, whose fault is it that there's a bad bottle of wine? It's not the world's fault, it's not the general store's fault, it's my fault, and that I think contributes to the rise in clinical depression that we are seeing.

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