Barry Schwartz studies the link between economics and psychology, offering startling insights into modern life. Lately, working with Ken Sharpe, he's studying wisdom.

Why you should listen

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice , Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today's western world is actually making us miserable.

Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.

Schwartz's previous research has addressed morality, decision-making and the varied inter-relationships between science and society. Before Paradox he published The Costs of Living, which traces the impact of free-market thinking on the explosion of consumerism -- and the effect of the new capitalism on social and cultural institutions that once operated above the market, such as medicine, sports, and the law.

Both books level serious criticism of modern western society, illuminating the under-reported psychological plagues of our time. But they also offer concrete ideas on addressing the problems, from a personal and societal level.

What others say

“Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us.” — Publisher’s Weekly

Barry Schwartz’s TED talks

Barry Schwartz on the TED Blog
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Live from TED2014

Power poses, idea technologies and the Internet’s birthday: A recap of “Where are we now?” All-Stars Session 3 at TED2014

March 19, 2014

By Liz Jacobs and Ben Lillie Taking stock of our moment in history helps us better understand ourselves, our societies and the present moment itself  — which often gets lost in the temptation to look backwards or forwards. And at TED2014: The Next Chapter we’re doing plenty of both. But we’re also designating this All-Stars […]

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The real crisis? We stopped being wise. Barry Schwartz on TED.com

February 16, 2009

In the latest release from TED2009, psychologist Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world. (Recorded February 2009 in Long Beach, California. Duration: 20:45.) […]

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Quotes from Barry Schwartz

The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.
Barry Schwartz
TEDGlobal 2005 • 6.7M views Sep 2006
Persuasive, Fascinating
The secret to happiness is low expectations.
Barry Schwartz
TEDGlobal 2005 • 6.7M views Sep 2006
Persuasive, Fascinating
With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.
Barry Schwartz
TEDGlobal 2005 • 6.7M views Sep 2006
Persuasive, Fascinating