Interview with Barry Schwartz author Paradox of Choice

September 14, 2006 - Get free updates of new posts here

I loved Paradox of Choice so much I decided to contact Barry Schwartz and hear more about choices. Here is what we talked about:

barry schwartz paradox of choice

Where did you go to school?
undergrad nyu majoring in psychology and philosophy
grad penn: phd psychology : interestes in skinnearian & animal learning.

How did you choose NYU for undergrad?

nyu offered me an incredible scholarship. i wanted to go to columbia. i was irrational as possible in making that decision. was editor of highschool newspaper. i had a meeting at columbia and was blown away. that is why i went

How do you think most kids pick which colleges to go to?

most college choices are irrational. irrational reasons are not a bad thing. people want to have the perfect place. that is impossible. it matters a lot less where you go to school then people realize. roommate, teacher, things you can’t know in advance really impact your future.

Why did you end up teaching at Swarthmore?

it was all luck that i ended up there. my wife was a grad student. it was convenient to get that job. ideal place. small. liberal arts college. the only job ever had and applied for.

How do you like Swarthmore?

I appreciate it more and more over the years. This is the best job for me. They really accept me here. I realized you can really influence how much you enjoy your job.


How did you meet your wife?

We have known each other since the 8th grade.

Any advice on finding the right job?

If you think that what you have can always be improved, then it will be hard to be satisfied with any job. this is not a recipe for being successful or satisfied. the message now a days is only the best will do. we all need to settle for good enough.


How can my readers figure out what jobs to take?

For young professionals they need to pay the rent. ideally people need to think about when they get up in the morning are they looking forward to going to work. meaning and engagement is the most important thing in life. not everyone is fortunate enough to do that. you may have to settle for the first decent job. find a way to make that job meaningful. most people in America can’t stand it. barring financial necessity, taking jobs based on money is a mistake. least important aspect, everything else is more important.

How do you just settle?
There is a will on the part of people to resist the life. You get a lot of information about seeing what others are doing and you have to resist becoming a slave to always wanting more. That attitude will always bring misery and dis-satisfaction.

Don’t you think people will have regret about settling?

I think regret is a good thing. when you regret when you do things, chances are you won’t do it again. when regret seems to pervade your life. a way to minimize that is to spend time focusing on whats good about your decisions. everything is good and bad. we focus on the bad things. with practice we can flip that. practice gratitude!

How can you practice gratitude?

write down a few things you are grateful for. realize the small/big things in life. we all have 2 or 3 things that we have a reason to be grateful for. appreciate the small things and what you got out of it. you will pay attention to what was good and not less.

What things are you interested in recently?

Lately I have been interested in what makes sombebody a maximizer, satisfier or perfectionist.

Also, I have been interested in how kids make choices. They receive so much pressure from parents and do what there parents tell them to do. Parents can have high standards without insisting for the best. This is not a recipe for technological process but to make decisions that create a satisfactory life.

How did you get interested in decision making and choices?

This is just not my research this is the way I live my life. I practice what I preach. My wife is the first girl I dated starting in 8th grade and we are still married. I am always satisfied with good enough. My job is the first I applied for and am still working at. I go to the same restaurants and I order the same thing. I do occassionally try new things (he said in a loud voice). I just try to avoid spending so much time trying to figure out what to eat or try new things.

Noah’s Note: Some of the cool stuff from his book is about picking and choosing which things you really want to spend time on. It is not a bad thing to spend a lot of time deciding thing or that more choices are bad. Barry just thinks life is more enjoyable when you don’t spend all your time trying to make chocies. Having rules helps think less about choices and makes life easier. Also, habits make life easier. Such as brushing your teeth, showering daily, etc…

What do you think is a good way to help kids grow up making good choices?

I think sheltering is a good thing. A neglected question is how do children make choices. little kids have a hard time doing it. sherlting them is a disaster. with some attention, teach them how to make decisions for themselves. keep the possibilities limited. make the set bigger. practice at decision making. in a protected environment.

How do you want to be remembered?

I dont really think about it. i guess as someone who’s work was helpful about the way people think about how they should live their lives. I want my kids and grandkids to be happy. this is the most important thing ever to me. i have 2 daughters. 1 is a social worker who works with hiv pregnant women. focused on producing healthy babies. ucsf medical school.

Do you write or read blogs?

I don’t read blogs but I think a fair amount of people are talking about my book. I don’t have time to read blogs and I tend to prefer magazines. I have some real concerns about quality control and dont have time to be an editor of the ideas people write about. Often and worthwhile material will ping up to him in mainstream. I am working on my next project and don’t have time to write. I do respond to every email that is sent to me.

Any recommended reads?

1 – happiness hypothesis – jon hidt
2 – stumbling on happiness – dan gilbert

If you want to hear more from Barry check out his video at Google.

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8 responses to “Interview with Barry Schwartz author Paradox of Choice

  1. the other Noah Reply

    I’m so glad people are picking up on this book — it was one of the best things I read last year (yeah, I got to read an uncorrected copy, guess that makes me ultra-leet or somethin’).

    Anyway, the idea of being “free to choose”, no matter how much politicians love to trumpet this in social security reform, pension reform, school reform, etc. etc., has always bugged the crap out of me. True freedom is not a binary Yes or No, it is ternary. Yes, No, and Unanswered. The freedom is having the option not to choose. We’ve lost many of those freedoms, because the systems that were put in place for just that very purpose turned out to be too much responsibility for the federal government to handle. So congratulations, it’s all on you again. Freedom!

    Hey, as Devo said, “Freedom of choice/Is what you got/Freedom from choice/Is what you want.”

  2. megan coffman Reply

    I just finished “Paradox of Choice” and loved it! I believe I have lived a happier life
    than many because I have followed so many of his directives on my own. I was
    also influenced by Amy Dacyczyn and her essays in “The Complete Tightwad
    Gazette”—her essay on Creative Deprivation for children is brilliant—-and completely
    in line with greater happiness. Check this, and her other essays out.