if choice = freedom, are > choices always better?

I remember reading the book Small Is Beautiful in grad school. About rethinking “when enough is enough.” Does more = happiness? Does “choice” = “freedom?” Is “more, more, more” sustainable?

Freedom of choice can be a luxury, especially when so many people around the world have few choices in navigating life.

And then there’re the more prosaic decisions or choices. Like what to eat, as in ordering from an expansive restaurant menu. Or pondering all the different salad dressings in a grocery store aisle.

When I worked in aerospace, I learned the rule of “3 to 7” for presentations. That typically our brains can only process 3 to 7 points at a time.

And there’re books which explore just how rational our decisions are (or not).

And too many choices or options (what ifs) can induce anxiety and an inclination toward black & white (binary) thinking. Overthinking and paralysis. An “escape from freedom” (and thereby subject to manipulation).

And physical anthropology reveals that we (as mammals) survived by using shortcuts to save time & energy.

• Psychology Today > “Decision-Making: The Choice Paradox” by Claudia Skowron MS, LCPC, CADC; reviewed by Jessica Schrader (May 2, 2024) – In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz discusses why more won’t make you happier.

KEY POINTS (quoted)

  • Choice is often linked to freedom and happiness.
  • Choice saturation can cause the opposite of satisfaction [and induce a right/wrong mindset rather than inspire a process].
  • Research suggests an ideal number of options to aid in decision-making [via expert consultants, focusing on outcomes].

Schwartz discusses an example of how this can be seen in our health care system. When patients go to see a doctor, they are given choices. Do you want to try medication A or medication B? Do you want to try this procedure or that procedure? The doctor states the pros and cons of each option, then puts decision-making on the patient. The purpose is good, intending to create patient autonomy, but in many ways it can also easily become a deflection of responsibility.

So how do we break the satiation of decision and choice? We can do this quantitatively, by adding number constraints, and qualitatively, by adding knowledgeable consultants. Eight appears to be the magic number (plus or minus two) when discussing options. According to a study in the journal, Natural Human Behavior, researchers at Caltech suggest that eight choices (plus or minus two) is the ideal amount to make us feel like we have enough options without overwhelming us.