Path to happiness

Recently, I am reading Prof. Barry Scwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice”. He teaches social theory and social action.  In this book, he did a stellar job explaining how “the freedom to choose everything” makes you eventually less happy.

Western societies, particularly North American ones, are built on the premise that people should have the freedom of choice. The positive thing is that we get countless options for everything: Tens of Ipod’s, hundreds of cars and thousands of apparel brands. The downside is that after a certain point, the freedom of choice beats the purpose. Here is how it works:

The goal of choice is to allow you to choose the option that satisfies your need. When presented with a choice, your expected behaviour is to choose an option that surpasses your expectation, “to satisfice”.  However, your real behaviour is completely different. You subconsciously switch from satisfice mode into “maximize” mode, starting to look for “the best option” even though you are perfectly fine with a mediocre one. Given that on an average day we have to make hundreds of decisions with inadequate technical knowledge and limited time, “the freedom of choice” creates anxiety, which ultimately transforms into “sense of helplessness.” A good example comes from retirement planning: When people are presented tens of plans, they freeze and choose none. As a result, you end up feeling less happy than you should be, which explains the high level of clinical depression in Western societies.

There is more. When you have endless options, subconsciously your expectations increase, significantly decreasing your chances of being pleasantly surprised. When what you experienced is not as good as what you expected, again you end up feeling less happy than you should be.

Today’s actionable tip: If you want people to buy your products/services, then simplify your offers. This will help customer to structure their expectations realistically and eventually feel happier. (Assuming you will deliver exactly what you promised.)

Microsoft is both a good and a bad example. The software giant is famous for its bundles. Today, I counted 38 bundles of Office 2007 on their website. This is a painful choice, unless you are paid to make that decision. On the other hand, the new Windows 7 (Its slogan is: Your PC, simplified) comes with three options! All with clear names: Home, Professional, Ultimate. Can it be a coincidence that all Windows 7 users are happy?

On the next post, we will discuss how to make your customers choose the option that you want them to choose. In the mean time, do you know any brand that does a good job presenting simplified options to its customers?

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7 Replies to “Path to happiness”

  1. Very interesting article. I remember a TED talk about a similar subject but the angle was different. I’ll keep the “less choice” aspect in mind and I look forward to reading the follow up article.

    1. Thanks for your comment and following my blog. Let me know if there is any particular topic you want me to write about. I am always open to feedback! Cheers

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