Sunday, February 25, 2007

Choice and Happiness

How much does our happiness depend on on what happens to us (win the lottery or have your limbs amputated?), and on choices we make about our lives? Dan Gilbert gave this startling talk on both topics, illustrated with some provocative psychological studies:
Gilbert's talk is certainly making me take a second look at decisions about which I tend to agonize, and about the role of choice in life, and I'm going to read his book Stumbling on Happiness. How many choices do you face? Does your job involve giving other people choices in life? If you have time or inclination to watch only one of the talks described here, watch Dan Gilbert's and please post a comment about what you make of its implications for your life and work.

Two other TED talks dealt a subset of Gilbert's topic, just having to do with choices in products and services.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about recent research that has led food companies to create many more choices in grocery stores: so many different kinds of mustard and vinegar, for example.

But even though research indicates that companies can sell more mustard if they offer these choices (because there is no 'ideal mustard', at any price: different folks like different kinds of mustard), do such choices make us happier? Barry Schwartz uses cartoons to explain why he thinks these choices are making us unhappier:

To repeat: if you have time to watch only one, watch Gilbert's. If you know anything about Zen Buddhism, tell us how this relates, or doesn't, to that or to other religions. In the meantime, I may start flipping coins as a way of making tough decisions about life!

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