Why More Choices Don’t Make You Happy

Why More Choices Don’t Make You Happy

[ intro ] If you’re anything like me, you’ve turned on Netflix at the end of the
day to relax, only to find yourself completely overwhelmed by the thousands of options of things to watch. Or maybe you’ve found yourself totally stuck
in a cereal aisle because you just can’t decide what will
make you happier— the granola with pecans and maple, or the one with cashews and honey. Situations like this are becoming more and
more common as all kinds of products target people’s
specific tastes. And while having lots of choices might sound
like a great thing, research has found that, actually, having
lots of choices won’t always make you as happy as you’d
think. There really can be too much choice! Take your cereal-aisle situation. That’s an example of what’s called choice
overload, also known as the paradox of choice. It’s what happens when you have so many
options that having to choose puts a damper on your
experience. And psychology research has shown that choice overload isn’t just frustrating— it can really influence how you act. For example, in one study published in the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology in 2000, researchers from Columbia and Stanford set up a table of jam samples in a grocery
store in California. They were trying to see what setup would entice the most customers to make a
purchase. On one Sunday, they offered only six samples. On another Sunday, they offered 24. On both days, people who dropped by typically
sampled just one or two jars of jam. But the larger display— on the second Sunday—drew more visitors. Except, there was one thing. Only three percent of those customers actually
bought jam after sampling it. On the other hand, almost a third of customers who visited the
smaller display— the one on the first Sunday— bought something afterward. The researchers concluded that, although customers were more attracted to
the larger display, the overwhelming amount of choice actually
discouraged them from picking one jam to buy. Of course, it’s not like people don’t
want to make choices at all. Another study reported in the same paper looked at what amount of choice gave people
the most satisfaction. In this case, psychologists offered chocolate to groups
of university students. In one group, students got to choose one chocolate
out of six. In a second group, students could choose one
out of 30. And in a third group, the students had no
choice at all— the researchers just handed them a chocolate. In each case, the students were asked to eat
and rate the chocolate. According to what they reported, the students who were asked to choose one
chocolate from six enjoyed their choice the most. Those who chose out of 30 chocolates were
less satisfied. But the group that had no choice at all reported the least satisfaction with what
they were given. Both of these studies showed that people want
choice, but those with too much choice are generally
less satisfied than those with a more limited choice. And researchers think that comes down to two
main issues: The first is that when we have more choices, we have higher expectations. We tend to think that with more choices, we can get closer to the thing we really want. Which means it’s easier to be disappointed. The second is that when we have more things
to choose from, we also end up with more regret, because we’re more likely to look back and
wonder if one of the other choices would have been
better. But even though having more choice won’t
actually improve our lives, studies have found that some people will go
out of their way to have more options, because they assume it’ll make them happier. For example, a 2009 article in the journal Personality
and Individual Differences described a study in which psychologists surveyed
people at two ice cream parlors in Vancouver. One was in a downtown area that was easy to
walk to but had fewer selections. Another was a car ride away, but offered more
flavors. The researchers found that many people who
wanted to make the best possible choice went to the place with the bigger menu, but they reported less satisfaction with their
choices than similar customers at the simpler, local parlor. Unfortunately, these days, it’s hard to completely avoid choice overload, especially if you live somewhere with a high
focus on consumerism. You’re bombarded with choices all of the
time— like when you buy groceries, or pick out your
clothes, or look for a 401k plan. And since the decisions you make in an instant
can affect the rest of your life, it’s worth knowing that you may not make
your best decisions when you’re overwhelmed with options. Because you can’t change that, but you can make other changes in your life. At the very least, you can remember that going out of your way
to have more choices won’t always make you happier. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! And thanks especially to our patrons on Patreon, who make it possible for us to keep putting
out videos like this. It takes a lot of people to make a SciShow
video, and we couldn’t do it without your help! If you’re interested in learning how you
can support SciShow, head to patreon.comSciShow. [ outro ]



  • The Weird Kids

    I don't think this applies to customisation options on video game characters

  • antiisocial

    Choose now!
    No. I will run.

  • Lyndsay Brown

    This was great!

    Now what do I choose to watch?


  • Wolfy

    Heard this in a Ted talk a couple of years ago. The speaker gave an example of the choice of buying jeans. Cant remember the speaker's name though.

  • David Fasci


  • MrDUneven

    Haha, imagine what would happen to this species happiness if there was something like a dating app that would offer so many partner choises, haha

  • Random Electronics and Displays

    That's why Chinese restaurant menus should come with a pair of dice to roll so you can choose something to eat.

  • Dale Stephanson

    I feel like the choice overload is due to a lack in ability to effectively compare so many options. If the information was broken up or organized into learning aids such as graphs or group listings then the amount of choices one could be given, before they felt overloaded, could possibly go up.

  • Zukaro Travon

    I prefer to have more choices and then select several items of interest, and then whittle it down until I find the item I want. Though it does mean doing more work of course, but I'd prefer the choice be there than not be there.

  • James Roe

    The jam study, how many total people bought jam in both scenarios? Just knowing the percent of purchases doesnt tell me which was more effective at making more sales.

  • katsomeday1

    Weird, I can see that being true for some things, but as far as things such as Netflix, I find that I enjoyed the physical disc version much more because the selection was much much larger and I could take time to really browse through the titles where as streaming Netflix has far fewer options and is a constant frustration. Same with gigantic books stores. Maybe it's stuff I know I can come back to and the quality of the options avalible.

  • Austin B

    Cheesecake Factory….

  • Tofu Said

    Bro, is this why they had 100000 choices of frozen yogurt in the Good Place (when it was secretly the bad place)?

  • Samuel Johansson


  • faithula

    Sure there's more choices but none of them are what I want so yeah I'm disappointed

  • Mike Jones

    Yup. I play Pathfinder, which is like Dungeons and Dragons, but MUCH more character options. Every time my players draw up a new character, I like to give them my “recommended builds” to help narrow down what they will choose

  • Dominique Hamel

    The human being is definitely a really weird animal

  • Dina I

    The fact that I only wear one color and have dietary restrictions really makes it easier for me 👌🏽

  • Angelo Acosta

    Title Edit Suggestion

    "Why TOO MANY choices…"

  • Pamela Mays

    Cable TV. So many choices, still nothing good on.

  • allwet66

    The reason Costco is so popular.

  • Mikey D

    So does this apply to dating apps? I know people who are always hooking up or dating but are so put off and dissatisfied vs people who don’t go on the apps who I’ve noticed, tend to be happier with what they have. Whatever the case, this is interesting!

  • Marcus Rosales

    Is this universally true though? Sure it depends on the person, but also the circumstance I'd think.

    I can tell you I'm happier with my SNESclassic after hacking it; there's way more games on it now, which is exciting to me. I prefer a bar with a lot of beers on tap rather than just a few since I get to try something I never have. I'm not a fan of having too many friends though: it's hard to keep up with alot of people. That's just to name a few.

  • cyrilio

    Use the Universe Splitter app to help with your choices. As a fun side-effect you also create another multiverse.

  • LagiNaLangAko23

    The One That Got Away

  • luciddreams

    For the indecisive, I highly recommend reading Marie Kondo's Tidying book (it's super short, FYI). I went from unable to make the most basic choices to super decisive. So much so that my mom's indecisiveness totally frustrates me :P. Hopefully I wasn't that bad?

  • 嗨你好

    Time is not enough, watch the video or not?

  • Lakrids Pibe

    Chidi brought me here.
    (He's still outside deciding on a yogurt ice cream)

  • xk13

    You should give up breakfast cereal altogether.

  • rmeddy1

    meh I just try something new everyday

  • Chance Sureshot

    Great tópic

  • TMG252

    this is probably why I get the same exact thing from my fave restaurant
    why risk it? Less choice is better if i know i like it

  • Dar Castro

    To little choices and you fell trap

    To many choices and you feel over whelmed

  • Dar Castro

    I have seen this in multiplayer games, when theres so many characters and so many choices to make, people tend to either let fate (aka random) deside, pick the same character over and over or not play at all (i think thats why "Maining Characters" is so popular)

    I also suffer this on many different stuffs, sometimes im over whelmed with choices i end up not choosing any

  • Nikki Hackborn

    In the words of Edina Monsoon " I don't want more choices I just want better things."

  • Logan Buhain

    Yeah, but will going out of your way to have more choices EVER make you happier?

  • Brendan Garrett

    Consumerism has an issue when you are outside the normal expectations. Sure there is choice, but its for other people who fit within the more marketable groups.

    My best example is me looking for shoes, I ask for size 14, either they bring me a small selection as that is all they have, or I go elsewhere because they don't even stock any big enough. Too often I go somewhere else.

  • wolvenar

    I apparently don't have this problem.
    In fact quite the opposite.
    I dislike to an extreme losing options.

  • Mangofretchen

    I love having lots of choices, especially with food (cereal). I'll just try everything that looks great. Limited choices will just lead to buying the same thing over and over again, and trying something new can be good.

  • Jah Breed

    Dangerous principle to share with an irresponsible corps of leadership.

  • Rational Fragile

    My trick when the choice is important is to make a "tournament". I pick just two out of the large number of choices, then I can clearly decide.. pick another two and continue until you find the winner.

  • Vinicius Blasco

    Does that apply to choosing a romantic partner? Since we can literally pick people from a huge list on an app nowadays, are we overall less satisfied with boyfriends/girlfriends compared with other generations?

  • Doug Fairbanks


  • Anon Ymous

    I guess thats why I loved the first pokemon games but cannot enjoy the latest ones, way too many things to do, way to complex.

  • fgreger

    Just boils down to:
    Actual step one: Figure out what you actually want.
    So many people fail there and blame other factors its hilarious and/or tragic. Depends on the case.
    But making educated decisions seems to hard for most people in general. That's why i don't like this study, it only looks at 1 variable. A variable evaluations are so inaccurate it disgusts me. Okay, what actually annoys me more is people taking them serious. People who would be geniuses in a 1 variable worlds really grind my gears.

  • PranayVaidya

    Barry Schwartz wants to know your location

  • Ronaldo Lopez Jr.

    A point for socialism

  • Jolfgard

    Afaik the paradox paradigm was proposed like a decade ago or something, but no one really bothered to verify it scientifically.

  • Him

    Choice doesn't make me happy, but the ability to have to all is what does make me happy

  • GlacialImpala

    That's How Tinder ruins happiness for derpy men and women who are in a relationship. They are happy-ish then they go swipe and subconsciously assume they could date any one of those people and imagine how it would be different from what they have. Give it a bit of time and the relationship turns to crap

  • Chad Shaver

    This is why I like In-n-out. Burger, fries, soda or shake. That's the whole menu

  • Darth Sidius

    What if you have more choices and you get them all?

  • Lauren Doe

    50 years ago, I had 4 TV channels to choose from and there was always something decent being shown. Today, there are hundreds of channels…. and not a darn thing worth watching.

  • EruditeW0lf

    From my personal experience the problem is not "too many choices", it's "not enough information to make a confident choice". The Cereal Aisle is only problematic when you're not already set on what to buy.

    If you're looking for a new breakfast, you may be trying balance a number of variables (nutritional value, taste, price, novelty, etc.) and not have a clear idea of which one is the 'right' one based on your desirability criteria, leading to that hmm-ing and ha-ing until a decision is made. Conversely, there could be a thousand options, but the moment you find one you know you like, the choice gets made and you move on with your life.

    There's a Thai restaurant I like which has a large variety of options, and the first time I went, I took a long time to order. I didn't know what was "good here", what the portions were like, how spicy was "spicy" etc., and I had to take into account a couple of food allergies as well. A few minutes with the menu and a couple questions to the server landed me with a recommendation and the decision was made. While it was good, on later visits I found a different dish to be my favorite, and I now have a short list of things I pick from based on what I'm feeling like that day, and can recommend to friends who are undecided.

    The issue on my first visit wasn't that there were too many choices, it was that I initially wasn't familiar enough with the options presented to confidently choose. Once I had spent enough time with the menu, and had conferred with someone more familiar than myself, I was able to arrive at a decision I was satisfied enough with to move forward.

  • piediddly

    Choice overload is exactly why I started to embrace minimalism in my mid 30s. For all the clothing obsessed out there, choice overload is also why you feel you have nothing to wear with a closet filled with clothes.

  • Matt Haines

    1/6 – 1/30 of choices from so what's ideal number? Or avarage?

  • Daniel

    Joke's on you, i stop at the first ice cream shop that has mint and liquorice and never regret 😀

  • Wizard Tim

    Dad: I once had a interesting conversation with a Russian, I like the guy, but he straight up told me "there's too many choices in this country".

    Me: He has a point, choices complicate human brain processes. If you narrow your options down, it becomes easier to make a selection.

    Dad: very confused look where did you get that from?

    Me: The book on game development that you bought me for Christmas.

    I think the basis for this particular phenomenon is the fear of buyers remorse. That fear of making a wrong choice.

    In the case of icecream, all icecream is good icecream, and you ought to know whether a particular flavor is already a plus or minus to you (whether or not you generally like strawberry for example).

  • Dan Nguyen

    People want more choices but don't want to think about making the choice…hypocrites!

  • Kitty Beans

    My trick at the cereal aisle: Just pick one I like and go. The time spent thinking about it all is itself a product and I generally like that more than the amount I like the BEST cereal more than I like the almost best cereal.

  • John Opalko

    Gone shopping for toothpaste lately? Talk about choice overload!
    There was a time where you had a choice of several brands and, within each brand, a choice of two or three flavors. Now, each brand comes in a plethora of varieties, each a combination of whitening/brightening/breath-freshening/whatever. Funny thing is, if you read the packages, the ingredients are the same.

  • Athena Tan Yi Min

    Solution to paradox of choice: Communism 😂

  • Jimera0

    My strategy for dealing with this is to focus on making a "good" choice not the "best" choice. Pick something you like and just run with it. Don't spend time stressing over which is best. The longer you think about it the higher your expectations and the more you'll have to regret, so just making a quick decision is better. Of course this only works when it's not super important you get the best thing, but that's like, 99% of the choices you make anyway.

  • thenonexistinghero

    Wait, this wasn't common sense? Isn't this important information every decent parenthood book would have advice on since it's important to not overwhelm your child with options?

  • The King

    Sometimes when u choose one thing among many other similar choices makes u more convinced about the thing u have chosen!

  • Geoffrey Straw

    This is why the argument against Bernie's single payer medicare for all is based on pure bull poop. People don't enjoy the "choice" of health insurance.

  • Laura Garnham

    Having to choose between more than say 5 options, unless I already have a bias towards one, is really stressful to me – I just get frustrated, go around in mental circles trying to weight up the pros and cons of each and more often than not go away with nothing. Now I deliberately don't look at all the choice, if something catches my eye and looks good enough I'll go for that. Makes things a lot easier. Or I decide what I want before I get there.

  • Rick Markus

    I already knew about this effect and I kind of want to implement it in the household tea box…
    Hand visitors 15 different bags of tea and they will most likely take one of the safest regular options.
    Leaving you with the other 12 bags which you honestly also don't really like

  • Anna Morris

    Having less can make you appreciate more what you do have. I am old enough–baby boomer–to remember when there were fewer choices and lots of things were real treats. Now it looks to me that kids are inundated with many choices of easily obtained items all the time. I think from fewer options one develops personal tastes and preferences. I really relate to the discussion about supermarket options. Crowded and confusing in general but I have established personal preferences over the years and narrow my choices accordingly. If I want something different I work from what I already like and branch out.

  • 1AdoptedGeordie

    I've always thought this is the flaw in our current consumer led capitalism. It is not more choice we need, it's better things.

  • adayexpired

    Or because everything on Netflix and cereal isle sucks? 🤷‍♂️ Guess this is a lesson 2020 DNC should’ve seen instead of, “here, choose between a boatload of these losers for the future of your nation and life.” 😩

  • Matthew Ellis

    … I've never had this problem. I didn't even know it was a thing. >.>

  • Eduard Qualls

    Like having a thousand channels on cable/satellite TV: you're disappointed in the 6 channels you actually watch. (And you end up cussing at the TV when you find "Space Aliens of the Bermuda Triangle" on what's labeled the "Science Channel".)

  • C D

    Now I get why some of the democratic candidate go on about why taking away choice when it comes to healthcare is so bad.

  • Setemkia FallingTree

    One issue of choice overload that was not discussed is that we often have no idea what it is we want and choice overload just makes that worse. This can lead to a fourth consequence of choice overload, making no choice at all and just walking away. This first happened to me when I was in the library trying to choose a book to read. There I was in my forties and having the first ever panic attack in my life and having to run out of the library because there were too many choices. After that, I would start having panic attacks in the market.

    I think the issue here is having to make a choice with inadequate information as to what will be best for your purposes. Whether it's what will best satisfy your appetite or what will best take care of your skin. Advertising no longer gives us reliable information and we have no basis on which to make a choice. Faced with this I often walk away from the choice entirely.

    Ironically producers have exactly the same problem. Considered Nabisco making Cheez-Its as that example has been made in the comments. They must get Tens of thousands of suggestions of what flavor to make and how did they choose from this Choice overload? This is especially an issue for them as they want to make a profit on whatever it is they choose to make and they have no way to choose.

  • Aidan Or

    At 3:48 what's a 4O1K plan?

  • MPflugga

    The bit at 2:07 was just hilarious, props to whoever animated that.

  • chaphi

    This makes me think of my favorite local Japanese restaurant. They have a small menu of just one type of dish – domburi (with a few choices between beef, chicken, pork, etc). They also have a few sides to choose from. Other common Japanese restaurants have ramen, sushi, or just other random Asian dishes and nothing out of the ordinary. This restaurant is special because it has a special home cooked flavor all cooked from scratch from a Japanese lady, and the simple menu makes it easy to enjoy the food.

  • Cae Herlin

    I've heard the term analysis paralysis before. Is that the same thing?

  • cass c

    Please list the places that don't focus on consumerism.
    I would like to relocate there

  • Rodney Benker

    This only measures the seen and ignores the unseen. While more choice may not appear to "make people happier" those choices absolutely impact future products or product quality. The unseen result of more choice (competition) is more satisfactory options over time. The UNSEEN is always more important in the long run.

  • Juan Jose L

    I believe this is cutting edge research and should be given more importance, but people who I've showed them this channel never seemed so thrilled. I really wonder why the hell that is.

  • B P

    Tinder in a nutshell!🤣 Lettuce Mayo And Onions!

  • Jenny Sweeney

    I wonder if any studies have been done on when you get to pick multiple options. Does disappointment in one of the choices sully the level of satisfaction with the other choices? Might it bizzarely make it harder to pick?

  • Kitu's Junkyard

    Shut up!

  • Jen Johnson

    This is why I enjoy shopping at ALDI.

  • mamimi09

    I felt this

  • baba booboo

    it actually does, but it matters what choices. you feckless morons who play off sudo-science to get money for views, please and forever f off my recommends

  • Joseph Magliocca

    I deal with this by looking at choices algorithmically, meaning, if I can, looking at each choice individually in an order that makes sense and deciding from there. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and I frequently make choices from the beginning or ending of my order.

  • Capt Ocie

    u sound like you're recruiting for an authoritarian super villain 😅 makin me nervous guys

  • Connor Avery

    That’s one of the reasons fast food companies always take stuff off the menu

  • Beryllium Johnson

    What if this does not apply to me? Why do behavioral studies need to be stated as representing the whole of humanity?

  • Adam Welch

    It very annoying when choosing a new beer! 🍺

  • kindlin

    I love just flipping a coin. The odd thing about having your decision made by an impartial, outside factor (like a coin flip) is that no matter what, you'll either be excited or disappointed, and from that you know what choice you really wanted all along.

    It's kind of like when you ask for help with something and immediately know the answer. It wasn't until you put yourself out there that the solution presented itself. Man, the mind is a weird place sometimes.

  • Bernhard Maierhofer

    The chocolate experiment that supposedly proved that "no choice" leaves people less satisfied is jumping to conclusions.

    The interpretation assumes that all chocolate flavors are fundamentally equal and that people's preferences are random, which is both clearly not the case. You can only compare satisfaction measurements among people who chose or were given the same kind of chocolate.

    In general I can absolutely attest to the truth of this video.
    People want choice! Choice is good for consumers! for me is typical US-American capitalist propaganda. While true to a degree it is very often overdone nowadays.

  • BloodnutXcom

    Life pro tip: have the mentality of automatically assigning a default choice. For example, when deciding on a movie on Neflix see that if you don't make a choice within 2 minutes, you'll just go with the first (the default) pick.

    Same with what to eat tonight. if you don't feel like having anything automatically select the top shelf on the right item.

    This really helped me out.

  • Valerie Pallaoro


  • [email protected]

    It's like the paradox of value, just as tangible, but that's not saying much

  • Heath Roush

    I've narrowed it down to A or B. A or B… I choose C.

  • goauld88

    This is why I can't get into open-world games.
    Too many things to do.

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