The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz [Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.


With the number of options constantly expanding on the horizon, we’re becoming less and less satisfied with the products and services we choose to acquire. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz observes in great depth this modern phenomenon. The tendency that more options is not only worsening our well-being but also one of the prime reasons we’re feeling depressed and unsatisfied with our lives in the 21st century.

The Core Idea:

The illusion of control over our lives is successfully adopted by many people. Wherever we look, there’s a huge pile of options we can choose from for almost anything we want nowadays. But while the opportunity to tailor your life the way you want seems fantastic, and actually realistic to most, the average person freezes when he’s about to make a choice. After all, if the thing we pick turns out to be a disaster, we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame for this bad faith.


  • We’re bombarded by products in every industry. Paradoxically, the more options there are available, the less happy we feel.
  • What we remember about an event governs our future choices about similar things.
  • It’s not about finding the best product there is. It’s about finding a “good enough” item that’s aligned with your standards.

7 Key Lessons from The Paradox of Choice:

Lesson #1: We’re Experiencing Choice Overload

It’s no longer easy to pick the right product.

After all, we’re exposed to an avalanche of goods regardless of the industry we’re observing.

That’s how the book starts. With a detailed overview of the options we are exposed to nowadays.

The author explains how, until very recently, there was only one type of jeans to choose from. As you can imagine, this is no longer the case. We can now decide between a wide variety of options that all seem promising – easy fit, relaxed fit, skinny fit, carrot fit…

It seems that regular, in every industry, is out of the scene and replaced by near-perfect alternatives that in reality are only complicating our lives.

But the rich assortment of jeans is just an appetizer. Important decisions about what to get is a permanent topic of our daily lives nowadays.

We have supermarkets filled with goods. Aisles covered with different types of juices, shampoos, cereals, beverages, tech gizmos all over the shelves promising to make our lives better. But among all of these options knocking on our doors waiting for us to decide, the worse, I believe mentioned in the book, is the growing number of classes in universities.

It’s amazing that we have so many career choices and options about what industry to get ourselves involved in. Yet, it’s extremely hard to decide what to do, for the rest of your life, in this fragile age – a teenager.

Each newly produced option adds another dimension to the array of choices we have to make. This makes deciding on things not only time-consuming, but it also becomes a source of self-doubt, anxiety, and it makes our lives unbearable.

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.” Barry Schwartz

Lesson #2: We Shop More But Enjoy it Less

Why it’s called The Paradox of Choice?

Simple: We want to shop. We shop often. We shop big. We evaluate and update our wish list even if we’re not shopping. However, we feel paralyzed and even worse, stressed, when we actually need to pick a product.

According to the surveys quoted in the book, 93% of teenage girls say that shopping is their favorite activity. In contrast, working women and men are not finding this activity very favorable. They actually call it a burden.

Nonetheless, they remain regular consumers and visitors of big supermarkets.

Why shop when we’re no longer enjoying this activity?

There are several reasons presented by the author in the book:

  1. It’s almost impossible to ignore the new products constantly appearing in the world. After all, regardless of where we physically go, we’re constantly exposed to ads.
  2. We’re prone to look at what others have and compare ourselves to them. Naturally, this leads us to the nearest shopping mall with a credit card and a desire to get what our neighbors have.
  3. We’re victims of the phenomenon called, “tyranny of small decisions.” Since so many products exist, and we desire to pick the best possible option for our money, we tend to say stuff like, “Let’s go to one more store.” Of course, this hypothetical visit to only one store always leads us yet another store, and then another, etc. In the end, shopping becomes a hassle that crushes our welfare.

With so many products and so many stores, isn’t it easy to find exactly what we want? And, since there are plenty of options regardless of the product we’re trying to get, shouldn’t shopping feel like we’re going on a trip to wonderland?

Apparently, the answer is no.

The paradox comes from the following experiment shared in the book: Store A is offering 6 varieties of jam – all available for testing. Store B, in contrast, offers 24 varieties of jam, also available for testing. And while store B attracted a larger crowd, store A did better in terms of sales.

Schwartz writes: “Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3 percent of those exposed to the large array of jams did so.”

We adore the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of options. However, when we’re facing an array of options, all with their own unique qualities, and it’s time to actually buy something, the decision-making process feels paralyzing. We start to question our decisions and, as mentioned in the book, “decide not to decide.”

Since we want the best product for our money, more choices make it almost impossible to successfully evaluate all available products, that’s why we can’t make an adequate decision. And, we don’t decide on anything.

… a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose, the reason being that thinking about the attractions of some of the unchosen options detracts from the pleasure derived from the chosen one.” Barry Schwartz

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