The Paradox of Choice

Have you heard of Barry Schwartz’s book and thesis called The Paradox of Choice? I ran into the idea on social media this week. Around the same time, I tried to decide about my upcoming trips: Do I want to go back to Poland after my cousin’s wedding in Germany, or do I want to travel on? Do I want to go to the wedding in the first place? To which country do I want to travel, if not back to Poland? And which city? Where do I want to stay, and how do I get there, and how long should I stay?


How do these questions connect with Barry Schwartz’s thesis? Well, I had a lot of choices, and this thesis was all about choices. So, let’s have a look.

I want to start by looking into the Western narrative of freedom. Freedom is having choices, and the more choices we have, the more freedom we have. Right?

Why more choices do not equal more freedom

magicXroads - Paradox of Choice

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to buy something, but there were so many options that you could not make a decision? You are not alone. The phenomenon is called “decision paralysis”, and it might happen when having too many options. For example, studies show that customers presented with five choices are far more likely to purchase than those with 50 choices. Confronted with 50 options, we need time to process the information and are more likely to postpone the decision but never come back to it. However, having five options makes it relatively easy to choose the best for the current situation. Can you relate?

But having more choices will make us happier in the end, as the chosen option will likely be a much better fit. Right?

Why more choices don’t make us happier

Yes, when having more options, you will likely choose something fitting your needs better than only having a couple of options. But it might not make you happier. Let me give you an example:

I grow up when television had three channels, which only operated about one-third of the day, from late afternoon to about midnight. Even with only one television in the household of four, it was easy to decide what to watch in the evening (or to skip television in favour of another activity). We enjoyed the time, knowing we had chosen the best option and felt happy about it.


Nowadays, the world has access to entertainment on demand; a multitude of providers offer almost unlimited options, and this is topped by short-form entertainment on social media and video platforms like YouTube. With all those options, do you ever feel like you spend your time on the entertainment best suited for your needs? Or do you often feel that you have wasted another hour or two of your life because you feel you chose wrongly? Does this make you feel happy?

magicXroads - Paradox of Choice

But how does this connect with my current situation and planning?

The torture of travel planning

When it comes to planning my upcoming trips to discover a new place to live, I have so many choices: The European Union itself has 27 member states, and only Germany and Poland are ruled out. And there are additional options in South America (Uruguay), Africa (Mauritius), Asia, and Europe. Each country has its pros and cons and hundreds of additional options, like settling in a city, town, or village – in a milder or harsher climate – in the mountains or near the sea. And when I have settled on one or two options, other choices torture, like what kind of accommodation to choose (Is there a cheaper option? Will it fit my needs?) and when and how to travel.


Having all those options was the reason I gave up on being a digital nomad in the first place. It drained my energy and kept me from spending my limited time and energy on things I truly enjoy.

So, what to do about it?

#1 – Limit the choices – quickly. How to do it? Do not try to compare 50 options – compare two options, choose the better one (for you at that moment), rinse and repeat, and do not stop until you limit your options to something you can handle.


#2 – Set a deadline for the final decision. Don’t try to optimize everything – you will never get there – but make the best decision within a specific time frame.

And where did I end up?

I am writing this article after not following #2, and therefore, I had to pay more, especially on plane tickets – but at least I finally made a decision: I will attend the wedding in Germany and then go to Romania for at least four weeks.


However long it took me, I am glad I escaped the gravity of convenience (region-beta paradox), but that is a story for another day.



I have been an au pair, a tourist, an explorer, and a nomad – looking for nice places to visit and the one place I want to stay forever.

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