The paradox of choice: why more is less

When I was a child, bread was white Wonder Bread, with an occasional delicious loaf from the bakery when we shopped in Watertown. We made our own jam from berries we picked ourselves—blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
We had one telephone—a phone on the wall with a handle to ring it. And we never made long-distance calls. And one time I saw a show called “I Love Lucy” when I visited Aunt Vi.
When I finished high school, I had three career choices—teacher, nurse, and secretary, and I knew from day one that I would attend our church-affiliated college in Virginia.
And I didn’t know a single person in the whole community who was divorced.
That was a long time again.
Today, I make bread in my baking machine with Hodgson Mill white flour, Hudson Cream whole wheat flour, rye flour, soy flour, organic wheat bran, seven-grain flour, and golden flax seed.
Or alternately, we buy Earth Grain 100% stone ground whole wheat or Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread.
We have five telephones in our house. We have two cell phones, with unlimited long-distance calling. And we have cable television with 60 channels to choose from.
From bread flours to television to careers to marriage partners, we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis.
Barry Schwartz began his book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less,” with a story.
He says he is a person who wears his jeans until they’re falling apart. Recently, when he finally went to the store to get a new pair, a salesperson asked him if she could help.
Naively, he said, “I want a pair of jeans—32-38.”
Whereupon, the salesperson asked, “Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy? Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed?
“Do you want them button-fly or zipper fly? Do you want them faded or regular?”
And he wondered what ever happened to regular jeans—“the kind that used to be the only kind.”
A social scientist, Schwartz was intrigued and did some research on shopping. He found 285 varieties of cookies in his local supermarket. Among chocolate-chip cookies alone there were 21 options.
Everywhere he went, it was the same story—too many choices, making it difficult to decide about things.
Schwartz admits our lives are better because we have choices. But he goes on to say, “the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better.”
Too much choice can be debilitating. Schwartz advises us to be “satisficers” instead of “maximizers.”
A “satisficer” looks at the options and chooses an option that is “good enough,” then goes on to more important things. A “maximizer,” on the other hand, always has to examine every choice for fear of not getting “the best” or not keeping up with the Joneses.
“Satisficers” usually are happy with their choices while “maximizers” often have regrets.
Simplifying choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. So as you begin the New Year, why not resolve to simplify the process of choosing this year.
Then resolve to be satisfied with the choices you make.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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