Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.


  • resonate – (of an idea or action) meet with agreement
  • up for grabs – available
  • preoccupy – (of a matter or subject) dominate or engross the mind of (someone) to the exclusion of other thoughts
  • subtract – take away (something) from something else so as to decrease the size, number, or amount
  • contribute – the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance
  • infuriating – making one extremely angry and impatient


Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at the times indicated in brackets.

  • What is the official dogma of western industrial societies? (1:15)
  • Why is patient autonomy not such a good thing after all? (4:24)
  • What does Schwartz illustrate with the soccer game example? (7:44)
  • Why aren’t people satisfied with their choices even if the choices they make are good ones? (12:13)
  • Why did Barry Schwartz feel bad about the entire experience of buying a pair of jeans? (14:23)
  • What is the relation between choice, failure and depression? (17:06)
  • Do you agree with Schwartz’s fishbowl metaphor?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the mising words. Use ONE word per blank space.

Second, what economists call “opportunity costs.” Dan Gilbert made a big point this morning of talking about ________ much the way in which we value things depends ________ what we compare them to. Well, when there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject, that make you less satisfied with the alternative that you ________ chosen. Here’s an example. For those of you who aren’t New Yorkers, I apologize.

But here’s what you’re supposed to be thinking. Here’s this couple on the Hamptons. Very expensive real estate. Gorgeous beach. Beautiful day. They have it all to themselves. What could be better? “Well, damn it,” this guy is thinking, “It’s August. Everybody in my Manhattan neighborhood is away. I ________ be parking right in front of my building.” And he spends two weeks nagged ________ the idea that he is missing the opportunity, day after day, to have ________ great parking space. Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction we get out of what we choose, even when ________ we choose is terrific. And the more options there are to consider, ________more attractive features of these options are going to be reflected by us ________ opportunity costs. Here’s another example. Now this cartoon makes a lot of points. It makes points about living in ________ moment as well, and probably about doing things slowly. But one point it makes is that whenever you’re choosing one thing, you’re choosing ________ to do other things. And those other things may have lots of attractive features, and it’s going to make what you’re doing less attractive.


Fill in the blank spaces with the correct forms of the words in CAPITAL LETTERS.

I want to say — just a little ________ BIOGRAPHY moment — that I actually am married to a wife, and she’s really quite ________ WONDER. I couldn’t have done better. I didn’t settle. But settling isn’t always such a bad thing. Finally, one consequence of buying a bad-fitting pair of jeans when there is only one kind to buy is that when you are _______ SATISFACTION, and you ask why, who’s responsible, the answer is clear: the world is responsible. What could you do? When there are hundreds of ________ DIFFERENCE styles of jeans available, and you buy one that is disappointing, and you ask why, who’s responsible? It is ________ EQUATION clear that the answer to the question is you. You could have done better. With a hundred different kinds of jeans on display,there is no excuse for ________ FAIL. And so when people make decisions, and even though the results of the decisions are good, they feel disappointed about them; they blame themselves


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