Barry Schwartz is a sociology professor at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. In this talk, he explains how and why the abundance of consumer choice in modern society is actually making people miserable.
But far from being a litany of despair, his is ultimately a message of hope, and a message implicitly supportive of the Simplicity Movement. Don’t think buying stuff through market transactions is necessarily going to lead to happiness, he is saying. Far from it. The path to true happiness does not consist in the limitless consumption and accumulation of material things. It consists instead in various non-material sources of satisfaction and meaning, like human relationships, creative activity, contemplation, and community engagement.
In short, sociologists like Schwartz explain why, in affluent societies, at least, money and possessions are much less important to human flourishing than people might at first think. There may well be problems with Schwartz’s analysis in places, and perhaps he overstates some issues. But he presents an interesting and provocative case, and he is one of surprisingly few thinkers who are prepared to consider what role politics has in shaping consumption habits in market societies. Food for thought!