The Tyranny of Choice: Barry Schwartz


In a classic demonstration of the power of sunk costs, people were offered season subscriptions to a local theater company. Some were offered the tickets at full price and others at a discount. Then the researchers simply kept track of how often the ticket purchasers actually attended the plays over the course of the season. Fullprice payers were more likely to show up at performances than discount payers. The reason for this, the investigators argued, was that the full-price payers would experience more regret if they did not use the tickets because not using the more costly tickets would constitute a bigger loss.


Alex C. Michalos of the University of Northern British Columbia has pointed out that all our evaluations of the things we do and buy depend on comparison — to past experiences, to what we were hoping for, and to what we expected. When we say that some experience was good, what we mean, in part, is that it was better than we expected it to be. So high expectations almost guarantee that experiences will fall short, especially for maximizers and especially when regret, opportunity costs, and adaptation do not factor into our expectations.

Addendum: For those of who prefer the visual, auditory, dynamic socratic method – Barry Schwartz’s TED talk

“If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches”



— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet, Letter 1



I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom and trade and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor moving wherever moves a man; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the center of things. Where he is, there is nature.

We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, and sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”


Buddhi-yukto jahatiha ubhe sukrta-duskrte
tasmad yogaya yujyasva yogah karmasu kausalam
The Bhagavadgita 2:50-51

Yoga is skill in action. It is the act of yoking to reality, an active engagement to the perception of reality. I have come across several variants of this precept, sometimes in surprising places and sources that are unlikely to have exposure to the motivation for these verses. The skilled practioner of a craft is actively engaging in a gauging or reading of a facet of reality, and in doing so has a brief albeit unadulterated perception of his/her relationship with his/her immediate reality. This state may be described as zen by the mahayana buddhists, dhyana in hinduism, or as being in the zone by an athlete.