Decision-making is an art, rather than a science” by Sheena lyengar

We often see choice as the statement of our freedom and the symbol of our independence: we are free individuals therefore we have the right to choose and the more choice the better. This is usually the kind of assumption you find in western cultures such as the American culture (the exlibris for freedom and limitless choice) and on some European countries like the UK, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark that basically grew among a gigantic and endless Brand frenesi. But if you go a little bit further to the east, to Asian countries or even eastern European countries, you’ll find a totally different mindset towards the freedom of choice and how people deal with that.

Sheena lyengar studies this process of how we make choices and how they differ from culture to culture. On her TED “The art of Choosing” she reveals what she discovered during her years of research. Never had I seen such an insightful approach on the process of choosing and on the mechanisms behind it.

Although lyenar relates to the American case, I can surely say that Portuguese also fit into this standard of assumptions. We basically make 3 assumptions when choosing:  we must make our own choices in order to be happy; the more options we have, the better choice we make and that we must never say no to choice! Not true if you ask me…

Well… if we look to the different cultures, we see that isn’t always like this and we discover the holes on our assumptions: “One does not put sugar in green tea“!

It is true that sometimes we make better decisions when the number of options is limited; it is also true that sometimes letting others choose for us helps us bond or gain confidence and sometimes rejecting the power we have to choose makes us more happy. Take a closer look to lyengar‘s analysis and you will understand that I’m not crushing or denying the pillars of our freedom, I am simply agreeing that no pattern serve s everybody, everywhere and if we accept and learn from those different patterns, we might actually learn to make better choices.

We have the power of choice and it promises freedom, happiness and success, but sometimes doesn’t deliver them… if we take a closer look at our assumptions and learn from other cultures how they choose, maybe we can learn how to take the full potential of this power that we have and make choices that actually bring us happiness, success and freedom.

There is a funny quote from Tom Hanks on “You’ve Got Mail” regarding Starbucks and the power of choice: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee.  Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.  So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self – Tall – Decaf – Cappuccino.

And you? Can you tell the difference between a Carte D’Or, Nestlé or Walls vanilla ice-cream? or aren’t they all just a package offering you that delicious vanilla flavored ice-cream?