> Innovation Agenda

Innovation Reading Circle

> Overview

The Innovation Reading Circle aims to help develop theory around innovation through rich, high-level and well-informed public discussion around key and related texts and discourses... [Read on in Objectives]

> Next Event

09: Affluence and happiness

> Titles

Paradox of Choice cover The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less Barry Schwartz (HarperCollins, 2004) [US sub-title ‘How the Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction’]

Barry Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He is the author of several books, including The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality and Modern Life and The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life. His articles have appeared in many of the leading journals in his field, including the American Psychologist. [Read on on the HarperCollins site, Swarthmore College site, and profile on Wikipedia.]

The Paradox of Choice claims that modern life has become “increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented” and that excessive choice “can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress”. Instead, the author argues for the value of eliminating choices as a route to deriving greater satisfaction. The discussion will also bring in perspectives Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard, which argues that as societies become richer, they do not become happier.

The Paradox of Choice can be ordered from Amazon.co.uk or from one of the online UK bookstores listed in under international bookstores on the HarperCollins site.

Related titles

Happiness: Lessons from a New Science Richard Layard [Suggested by Lorenzo Wood]

Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006) [Amazon.co.uk] [Suggested by Marko Balabanovic]

The Challenge of Affluence: Self-control and Well-being in the United States and Britain Since 1950 Avner Offer (Oxford University Press, 2007)

Affluenza Oliver James (Vermilion, 2007)

> Takes place

7–9 pm (6:30 pm for drinks), Monday October 8, 2007

> At

Channel 4 Television, 124 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2TX
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> Taking part

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> Notices

We are grateful to Channel 4 Television for supporting and hosting this event. (More about the Channel 4 Building.)

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> Preparation

Points for discussion

Some of the questions that we plan to discuss include:

  • How convincing is the evidence that increased choice increases anxiety?
  • How convincing is the evidence that as societies become richer, they do not become happier?
  • Are the causal connections established by the authors?
  • Historically, did the wealthy experience choice in the same way?
  • Is the paradox of choice in fact a failure of communication and design?
  • Are there other reasons for our pre-occupation with consumption, or our difficulty making choices?
  • To what extent does unhappiness stimulate creativity and push human achievement?
  • What are the historical precedents for the discussion of the relationship of wealth and happiness, including within organised religion?

Background reading, listening and viewing

RSA lecture: Freedom and Choice, Speakers: Barry Schwartz, Dr Sheila Lawlor, Richard Reeves, Ed Mayo, 25 February 2004. Lecture text includes a contribution from Daniel Ben-Ami.

Britain’s happiness in decline BBC News, 2 May 2006. Britain is less happy than in the 1950s - despite the fact that we are three times richer.

Google Tech Talk: The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz, April 27, 2007 [video]

TED Talks: The paradox of choice, Barry Schwartz, July 2005 [video]

BT Big Thinkers series: Paradox of choice with Barry Schwartz, with facilitator Esther Dyson, 31st October, 2006 [video]

Pop!Tech 2005 talk: Less is More, Barry Schwartz, 2004-10-23 [audio]

Themed issue: Are We Happy Yet? Happiness in an Age of Abundance Cato Unbound, April 2007 , including lead essay The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective by Darrin M. McMahon and reactions by Barry Schwartz, Ruut Veenhoven, Will Wilkinson. And link to related archived content 'Pursuit of Happiness Research: Is It Reliable? What Does It Imply for Policy?' [pdf] by Will Wilkinson.

Opinions: Against unhappiness Richard Layard, Prospect, issue 135, June 2007 [paid sub required]

Don’t ask the state for happiness Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod, Financial Times, July 16 2007

Why the ‘politics of happiness‘ makes me mad Frank Furedi, spiked, 23 May 2006

Consumer Vertigo, Virginia Postrel, Reason Magazine, June 2005

Other shared bookmarks for Innovation Reading Circle 09 may be added.


Select All, Christopher Caldwell, The New Yorker, 1 March 2004

Clobbered By The Cornucopia, BusinessWeek Online, April 26, 2004


PBS: Online NewsHour: Paradox of Choice, December 26, 2003

> Contact

If you have queries about the event please email   Nico Macdonald