Every once in a while, I find myself going back to lectures on YouTube and Ted.com, remind myself that I should do this more often, and then completely forget about doing so. Tonight is one of those nights.
This is a 20 min (21:20) by Dan Gilbert called “Why are we happy?” based on his book Stumbling on Happiness. [Given how we waste so much of our time, this is a precious 20 minutes indeed.]
Dan talks about choice and the concept of synthetic happiness. Synthetic happiness is when we didn’t get what we want. Here’s an example I just made up:
You’re at a ice cream parlor and ask the server which ice cream to get (let’s pretend you can’t try them). The guy recommends peach or pecan. You pick the pecan but are wondering what the peach tasted like. You’re happiness level is influx because you’re doubting your choice. On the other hand, you ask the guy the same question, and he says peach or pecan but we’re out of peach. Well, you say, get me the pecan then, you eat the ice cream, and you think, hmmmm… that was pretty darn good.
We learn in marketing that there is a balance between giving people choices & giving people too many choices, and there is an optimal number of choices but we can’t always control the market… or platforms. What immediately came to mind, especially because I work in the social gaming industry is this:
Compared to the number of games on the iPhone, there are far less choices on Facebook, both in terms of genres & choices in each genre. Giving people a select number of choices, it’s easier for them to choose. Facebook has the top 20 games (you can go down by genre if you like, but I’m guessing most people don’t). However, iPhone gives users top 25 and 50 in each genre. That’s 19 subcategories under gaming and 20 if you count the “all games” category. Holy smokes.
Is there a correlation between the limitation of choice and how much game developers are making/users are spending? Zynga was valued at over $3 billion this year. Playfish was bought for ~$400 million. Playdom’s last valuation (in November, aka eons ago in interweb time) $260 million. Top iPhone developers? Confession: I don’t know. I’m taking an educated guess in that none of the iPhone devs are getting such an astonishing valuation.
Yes, lots of factors play into this analogy, and I’m completely over-simplifying things. But that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. The influx of choice is a major determining factor in how popular a game stays, how well it monetizes, and how many downloads. [It's one of the reasons, the majority of iPhone games have such a short shelf life; they're constantly being replaced.]
Okay, we’ve looked at ice cream. We’ve looked at gaming. Let’s zoom out. To life.
This thought leads to my bold statement: if a poll was taken of the self-described happiness level of people in China and people in the US, I bet more China would have a higher happiness rating (and as it continues to expand, that rating will slowly drop down to meet that the United States).
Why? There are fewer choices in China (well, not in current Chinese cities but on average). In types of food. Politics. Parking spots, if you’re one of the rising middle class with a car (horrible idea).
Because, in sum, there are less choices to be made, there’s also less buyer’s remorse. The absence of this increases the overall happiness quotient.
So. Without physical limitations to our choices, is there a way to artificially create boundaries in our lives that will help increase our ability to control our own happiness? Do you believe choice is the evil villain in the pursuit of happiness?