Less is More
For those of us in the United States, yesterday was a day of Thanksgiving; a time to count the blessings in our lives and enjoy our families. Unfortunately, with Christmas just around the corner, we are also being bombarded with images of what we “could” have.
We live in a culture that conditions us to want more, more, more. More money, more prestige, more choices. Paradoxically, research by Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia Business School professor and author of The Art of Choosing, indicates that offering too many choices actually leads to lower levels of satisfaction.
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But think about it. How many times have you been overwhelmed by making some simple decision, and then afterward kicked yourself in the pants for having made the wrong choice? But with so many options, how could you possibly have picked the right one?
This lesson hit home recently during a birthday party Puppy attended at Chuck E. Cheese. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the venue, Chuck E. Cheese is a children’s destination that allows kids to play games in exchange for tickets, which they can later trade in for prizes. Having earned something like 110 tickets, Puppy had a wide selection of toys to choose from.
She stood at the counter agonizing. First it was a sucker and a bracelet. Then a top and a sucker. No, maybe a notebook and a pen. On and on it went. She was one of the first children at the counter, and was still standing at the counter after every single party attendee had traded in their tickets and made their selections.
Finally, I gave her a two minute warning. Puppy managed to make her final selection (a sucker and a green plastic lizard) before I had to put my foot down, and she seemed thrilled with her choices.
But it wasn’t five minutes into the ride home before I heard Puppy mumble, “I should have chosen the orange lizard.”
That’s when it hit me; the whole process was so overwhelming, it would have been virtually impossible for her to have left feeling like she’d made a good choice. Maybe less really is more.
(As an aside, Dr. Iyengar happens to be blind, making her research on choices all the more compelling. There is a fascinating New York Times article about her and her work at this link.)