Too much choice?

Does having so much choice cause us problems?
(620 words)
IELTS Reading Questions:
Short Answer & True / False / Not Given

More choice creates more happiness, right? Maybe. Maybe not. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, while having some choice is a good thing, having a lot of choice may actually cause us problems.

This isn’t a new idea. The 19th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believed that the freedom and the huge number of options we have, as well as the knowledge that we might make a wrong choice, means that many people get lost. Some lose themselves in the finite, he claimed, limiting themselves to being what society and other people expect them to be, rather than becoming a ‘true self’. Others get lost in the infinite, which means keeping possibilities open and not making any real choices at all – when faced with so many options, some people become almost paralysed and find it hard to commit to anything.

Here in the 21st century there has been a huge increase in the amount of choice we have and the number of decisions we have to make. In his 2005 TED talk, Schwartz describes how he has a choice of 285 different cookies and 175 salad dressings in his local supermarket. And in a 2022 episode of her podcast, Laurie Santos says that there are around 80,000 drink options in Starbucks. Aside from things we buy, the increase in options in the world of dating and relationships means that we have to make decisions that we never had to think about before, Schwartz says. He believes that this increase in choice is having two major negative effects.

The first problem we experience is decision paralysis. Similar to Kierkegaard’s lost in the infinite idea centuries earlier, this is the finding that when there are so many options to choose from, people find it difficult to choose anything. Schwartz gives the example of employer contribution retirement plans. A study found that if there are fifty plans to choose from, fewer employees join than if there only five plans. With fifty plans, the employees put off making a decision because it’s so difficult to decide, meaning they lose out on free money, he says.

The second problem with having so many options is that when we finally make a decision, we tend to be less satisfied with what we got. Schwartz explains that when there’s a lot of choice and you buy something that’s not perfect (and most things aren’t, he says), it’s easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would have been better. This can leave you feeling less happy with what you have and perhaps even blaming yourself for making a bad decision.

Constantly making decisions is tiring and can lead to another problem known as decision fatigue. Santos explains that our brains don’t have the capacity to decide between so many choices, so we tend to filter some of the options out. In addition to that, as we make decision after decision, our brains become fatigued which makes us more likely to make worse decisions later on. If we use mental energy choosing coffee, it will reduce our ability to make good decisions about more important things later, she says.

To reduce choice overload, she recommends reducing the number of decisions you have to make each day, and says that she now eats the same breakfast every morning. Schwartz adds that when he goes to a restaurant these days, he doesn’t even look at the menu; he waits for his friends to order and then just chooses the same as one of them.

In a later interview, Schwartz does say that sometimes having a lot of choice can be a good thing and at other times it causes problems for us, but it’s difficult to say which way that will go.

IELTS Reading Questions for Too Much Choice?:
True / False / Not Given & Short Answer Questions.

Sources and links from Too Much Choice

TED talk by Barry Schwartz The Paradox of Choice.
– Laurie Santos’ podcast The Happiness Lab episode 8 – Choice Overload.
Later interview with Barry Schwartz in Pacific Standard.
– Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

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This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Syd

    Choices are good to have so people know what suits their needs better. The problem is it makes our decision making less credible due to a lot of factors. At the end of the day, know what you want and keep your focus.

    1. Nick

      Thanks Syd.
      Good idea.

  2. Nart

    I hate choosing dishes when I’m at a restaurant I haven’t been to before, haha.

    1. Nick

      Haha. Thanks Nart.
      I had to think about that myself – I’m okay with it.

  3. Jolie

    Hi, Nick

    Thanks for sharing.
    I can’t agree with this article more, but I think for the people from Asian culture are kind of need the opposite training.

    1. Nick

      Thanks Jolie
      Glad you liked it.

  4. Suky

    Hi Nick, glad to read the new article in May.
    Interesting topic!
    For me, it’s too boring to have no choice, like eating same breakfast or same order with friend.That’s a kind of extreme hahaha.
    I quite enjoy the process of making choices, which dress to wear, where to travel, which school I prefer, who I like to be friends with. Those make me feel I am fortunately to chose what I like. Right even tiny choice each one makes differently result to our varied lives. In this way, I will also not regret if it lead to bad result because I do decided it not anyone else.
    Then big choice deserves more thinking and less on small. I always follow my heart and do it immediately so it’s not a big trouble for me haha.
    Take care~

    1. Nick

      Hi Suky.
      Good to hear from you, and I’m glad you liked the article.
      Interesting that you like all the choice in life. I wonder if it’s connected to different personalities / backgrounds / cultures, or just young vs old 😉 – I wrote about this topic because I sometimes find it difficult to make decisions when there are a lot of choices.
      Anyway, thanks for your comments.
      Take care.

      1. Suky

        It’s connected to personalities haha. If the choices bother you, just keep them away, like what you write.

  5. Coudel

    I really enjoy reading the gives me insight in making a decision.that the choices we make in our life,one way or another, may give us satisfaction or regrets.😊

    1. Nick

      Thanks Coudel.
      Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. aman

    thnku sir its amazing website and article 🤩🤩

    1. Nick

      Thanks for the feedback Aman. Glad you like it.

  7. Rawia

    Thank you so much, this website not only of a great help for learning English but also has really amazing contents that help us be well educated. Please keep it up!

    1. Nick

      Thanks for the nice comment, Rawia.
      Glad you’re enjoying the site. I will keep it up!

  8. Brathap Singh

    Indeed, I enjoy reading this article….interesting topic …

    1. Nick

      Thanks Brathap.
      Glad you liked it.

  9. Anes

    I really liked the concept and the article but I think I am contrast to the concept of this article
    I like when I have more options to wear and to choose what I like at the same time I also feel bad after taking some major decisions in life for example I had chance to choose
    Between business studies group and science group after taking business studies
    I started feeling I shoulda choosed science as I don’t any more chance I now repent

    1. Nick

      Thanks for your comment, Anes.
      Re. whether a lot of choice is good or bad, Barry Schwartz said this in a later interview:
      Having a lot of choice can be liberating or it can be paralysing, but it’s difficult to say which direction that will go in.

  10. Masroor

    Why is the answer of question 3 NOT GIVEN instead of true? The passage does clearly mention about increase in the option of world of datings and relationship. Would you please explain to me?

    1. Nick

      Hi Masroor.
      It’s Not Given because there is nothing about online dating in the passage.
      The passage talks about the increase in options in the world of dating, but it doesn’t say that online dating has caused this increase.
      Hope that helps.

  11. aaqib

    hello sir,
    could you explain me why the ans for ques 1 is NG??
    i wrote it as false.

    1. Nick

      Hi Aaqib
      For number one, the keyword in the question is ‘most’ – look out for words like that in T/F/NG questions.
      In the article it says, ‘many people either lose themselves in the finite or lose themselves in the infinite’, but there is no specific information about the number of people or percentage of people who get lost in the infinite / get lost in the finite.
      The question says, ‘Most people get lost in the infinite’; Most = more than 50%, but from the article, we don’t know what the number or percentage is.
      Hope that helps.

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