The Tyranny of Choice

Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But, as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery

Americans today choose among more options in more parts of life than has ever been possible before. To an extent, it is only logical to think that if some choice is good, more is better. Yet recent research strongly suggests that, psychologically, this assumption is wrong. Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less.

This evidence is consistent with large-scale social trends. Assessments of well-being by various social scientists--among them, David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University--reveal that increased choice and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being in the U.S. and most other affluent societies. As the gross domestic product more than doubled in the past 30 years, the proportion of the population describing itself as "very happy" declined by about 5 percent, or by some 14 million people. In addition, more of us than ever are clinically depressed. Of course, no single factor explains decreased well-being, but findings indicate that the explosion of choice plays an important role.

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