Chain of Causation

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This post challenges the contention of Barry Schwartz that too many choices leads to depression and even suicide.  What do you think?

I recently watched a TED presentation by Barry Schwartz. The following is From an internet summary: “ Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a .. case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable. Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.”


I agree that having more choices does not necessarily lead to happiness. But, I think that is not the cause of unhappiness. Feeling befuddled by all the choices is easily remedied if that really is the cause. The underlying mechanism is likely the inability to think clearly in the face of important choices. Some choices require more sophisticated analysis than people are able to do “naturally” that is without learning how to make choices. To Explore the relationship to critical thinking and happiness read our article about the book Stumbling Upon Happiness (Dan Gilbert) in the articles section of the critical-thinking website.

Oh NO!  I really regret choosing that red sweater – I simply must kill myself.  Yes, that would work.  Bye, bye!  Oh wait, there are so many ways to kill myself what if I fail to pick the best way?  Life is cruel. Now I’m too depressed to kill myself.” 

And you really think the problem is too many choices?


Well, Barry lays out a chain of causation. Let’s subject it to the “therefore test“. “Freedom” therefore “more choices” therefore “paralysis” therefore “regret” therefore “depression and suicide “. The first weak link for me is the jump from “more choices” therefore “paralysis.” There are critical thinking tools for making decisions that avoid paralysis. Another weakness is the link between “regret” therefore “depression” or therefore “suicide.” Surely regret does NOT itself result in “suicide” or even “depression”!

Maybe the author might look into whether suicide candidates feel or do not feel a solid sense of purpose in their lives beyond the search for the next consumer item, no matter how long the list of choices? There is no “fulfillment” there, no cheese, I could say.

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