Speaker: Barry Schwartz
I have always been a fan of Barry Schwartz since reading his book, The Paradox of Choice. The basic thesis of Schwartz’s book is that, while American rhetoric says more is better, even that the more choice a person has the happier they are, statistically the opposite is true. Instead, by learning how to be satisfied with a choice amongst fewer choices, people will actually increase their happiness.
A recent Radio Lab show looking at the same concept of “choice” and interviewing Schwartz reminded me of how powerful this concept is and how choice impacts our lives, our happiness, what we want in life, etc. How does this relate to drugs and drug addiction?
Schwartz’s talk and the elements of our lives in which we have to make a choice amongst millions of choices is an overwhelming task.
“[In my supermarket, there are] 175 salad dressings, if you don’t count the 10 extra virgin olive oils and 12 balsamic vinegars you could buy to make a very large number of salad dressings on your own, on the off chance that none of the 175 the store has on offer suit you.”
“Something as dramatic as our identity has now become a matter of choice. We don’t inherit an identity, we get to invent it and we get to reinvent ourselves as often as we like. That means that every day you wake up in the morning, you have to decide what person you want to be.”
One of the biggest ways I see this talk relating to drug abuse, addiction and rehabilitation is how different people react to choice and how this reaction is the cause of issues such as addiction. For example, as a healthy, smart, capable human being one can easily be overwhelmed with choice so much so that you want to say “F*** this.”, throw up your hands and not make a choice at all. An alternative example is take a non-healthy person that struggles with a rough home life, intense peer-pressure, economic strife and a propensity to be susceptible to unhealthy habits and place that person in the same choice situation. One not only drops it, they freak out, have a break down or melt down and, further more, need an escape for the responsibility of making all of the choices Schwartz describes.
“All of this choice has two negative effects on people.
- One effect is that it produced paralysis instead of liberation. With some many options to choose from people find it very difficult to choose at all.
- The second effect is, even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.”
In some cases, and in terms of drug addiction and alcoholism, I would argue against Schwartz’s first effect, that of choice producing paralysis, to say that people do not freeze but instead give up on making more complex choices and turn to a choice that is more easily made. This is the result we see in the second example of the “healthy” vs. “not-healthy” person example. This would explain why people, especially teenagers who have less developed brains, would start using drugs. They are so overwhelmed with the options surrounding them in the various aspects of their lives that they drop thinking about it all and make the one choice of doing drugs or drinking that will help them forget about the choices that, in many cases they have to make.