The Power of Ideas: The Paradox of Choice, Happiness and Making Choosing Easier

Uma Hiremath
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By Uma Hiremath

INE Ted Columnist

The average American reportedly makes about 70 big and small decisions in the course of an average day – oatmeal or toast; red sweater or blue coat; quit or stay; Trump or Biden.

This week, we chose a President. The choice required each of us to go through a complex process of thought, emotion and interaction. It seems timely, then, to deconstruct that process. How better than to have a choice, on viewing choice, as offered prismatically by three TED experts.

Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce – 2004 – 17 minutes

Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell elegantly combines stories and research on the making of simple spaghetti sauce. In doing so, he explores the complex diversity of humans that require a mirroring diversity in choice. In this talk, the very nature of happiness can be seen as a function of being able to access multiple choices.

The Paradox of Choice  – 2005 – 19 minutes

We now turn to psychologist Barry Schwartz who argues that far from making us happy, an overabundance of choice raises a spiral of  internal expectations that, by definition, can never fully satisfy. “What if we had chosen something else; would that have been a better choice” is an internal drumbeat with the potential to leave us either paralyzed or unhappy or both. Sigh.

How to Make Choosing Easier – 2011 – 16 minutes

Our third choice in the matter of choosing, comes from the clear vision of blind author and business professor at Columbia University, Sheena Iyengar. While both the attractions of choice and its paralyzing effects are acknowledged, Professor Iyengar offers business research that demonstrates the art of making choices more accessible for overloaded consumers. Like Goldilocks, we need an array of choices that are “just right.”


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