Blog Ipsa Loquitur

This Vox piece by Rachel Sugar is near and dear to my household. It’s an interview with psychologist Barry Schwartz on the allure of a doomed mission: The quest for the best.

Given that we live in a consumer culture where you can get anything — a T-shirt, fancy whiskey, blood pressure medication — delivered to your door within hours, it is surprisingly difficult to buy things.

Do you want jeans? What type of jeans do you want? Will those jeans look good on you? Why didn’t you buy jeans that look better? Also, isn’t $148 a lot to pay for jeans? Maybe they’ll go on sale later. Maybe you’ll find better jeans if you try harder. All you want is the best jeans, and is that so wrong?

Yes, psychologist Barry Schwartz famously argued in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, his 2004 opus exploring why, if we love choices so much, an ever-growing number of them seems to be making us miserable.

This is part of the same Vox series as the “the men’s razor industry has gone bonkers” piece I liked last week. But the reason this story lands like a bombshell for me is bits like this:

According to him, the world is, very roughly, divided into two types of people: satisficers, who can be content with a good-enough thing — they’re perfectly fine pants, let’s move on with our brief lives — and maximizers, who can’t call off the search until they’re certain they’re getting not just a good thing but the best.

And here I’ve been dividing the world between chaos and order muppets. This makes at least as much sense.