How much control do you have in your life? Have you ever refrained from doing something that you wanted to do because you didn’t have a choice? Do you spend more time than desired in the cereal aisle at the grocery store trying to decide?
In “The Art of Choosing,” Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar thoroughly analyzes the concept of choice, something that she has been pondering since a very young age. As a Sikh immigrant from India, she was conscious of the different views toward choice while growing up in America. While her family and religion told her what to eat and whom to marry, her American friends lived lives abundant with choices, in comparison.
Choice is associated with freedom, but only after understanding the “art” of choosing can one avoid manipulation from advertising, recognize cultural traps, and master coping with the choices that one must make or has made.
Iyengar presents stories and experiments showing that your own survival can depend on choice. Steven Callahan, captain of the Napoleon Solo, was lost at sea for 76 days. In his case, survival was a choice he made every day, instead of accepting any idea of “fate.”
Being presented with more choices can actually delay the decision-making process, as shown in Iyengar’s jam experiment, where shoppers purchased more jams when the number of choices was reduced from 24 varieties to six.
“Life hands us a lot of hard choices, and other people can help us more than we might realize. We often think we should make important decisions using just our own internal resources. What are the pros and cons? What does my gut tell me? But often we have friends and family who know us in ways we don’t know ourselves,” says Iyengar.
Iyengar continues, “As we get older, we get better at choosing in ways that will make us happy. We do a better job at picking activities that make us happy, and at spending time with people who make us happy. We’re also better at letting things go.”
Iyengar will leave the reader pondering how they view choice and open a door of reflection to how much control one has over destiny. “It’s when we tell the story of our lives in terms of choice, that it gives meaning to the things we do every day,” Iyengar writes.
This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.