Why you must read ‘The Art of Choosing’ by Sheena Iyengar

 

the book

 

‘There’s a suffering that comes when persistence is unrewarded, and then there’s the heartbreak of possible rescue gone unrecognised’.

Powerful words from a powerful book. That make you cry for every person you loved that succumbed to an illness, even though they fought long and hard – and desperately wanted to live. Yet the fact that they choose to react to their situation in the best possible manner – they fought the good fight instead of lying down and dying – is in itself a great healer.

The idea that we can choose our destinies (at least most times) is what keeps hope alive and makes one want to get up in the morning and live another day.

A seemingly clinical analysis of Choice may not sound very insightful, but that’s what this book is all about. Insight.

That too much choice is in fact confusing, not in our best interest and most times leads to a bad decision.

Yet choice gives us a semblance of control and helps us feel powerful and in charge, which mitigates frustration or anger that we may have felt if we were not given options.

An argument I use when people ask me why I give my young children (6 and 2) a choice in so many matters – what they want to wear today, homework before or after lunch, this book or that – when it would often be simpler for me to just decide for them.

Another idea that resonated with me was how we can choose to change our reaction to a situation – thereby reducing the stress inherent in that situation.

Let me explain through my own experiences in discussing religion. We had been brought up to never talk about politics or religion in public, as it wasn’t considered polite and could lead to much unpleasantness.

However as an adult, I began to be part of more and more discussions about these subjects – and after 9/11, I had to deal with this reality in the best way I could. Many a times I would come away from a conversation upset and angry, because whilst others gave vent to their views – some not so sensitively – I was always caught on the back foot and couldn’t find anything to say.

In a workshop on self-awareness I had an epiphany of sorts. I could simply choose to speak my mind and express my point of view. It wasn’t impolite. It was being practical – and realistic – in a world where niceties don’t count for much.

Ever since (and particularly after a heated argument with a friend about terrorists and Islam), I am free in my mind and heart to stand up for what I believe in. It keeps me happy and sane. And I am still friends with the above-mentioned person – maybe because I did speak my mind and clear the air.

I also loved the bit on what we can do – the world’s many colours, caste’s, religions – to live together peacefully. Secularism, Tolerance and other ism’s are nicely explored and the author has some refreshing ideas to make for a better world.

It also addresses something that’s been on my mind for a while– why it’s considered absurd, old-fashioned and rigid to want to marry within one’s own community – whilst you could take your pick from a larger set (thus assuming that more choice is always better). So while we go on about freedom to choose our life partners, don’t be in a hurry to trash the age old wisdom behind arranged marriages either. Something the book has fun pointing out.

Lastly, the author advocates a serious (if a little morbid) approach to those hard choices we all have to face at some time in life – whether to hospitalise an aging parent who needs special care or try and take care of them at home. Whether to opt for chemo and its terrible side effects or try alternative therapies with unproven success rates. Handled sensitively yet practically, it offers some solid advice on how to make these crucial choices as pain-free as possible for everyone concerned.

All in all a great read. You won’t regret that you choose it 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Why you must read ‘The Art of Choosing’ by Sheena Iyengar

  1. I’m in the process of reading the book now and nice to see that your giving it a great tribute!! I seem to like it already so lets hope its as nice as the review you’ve given it 🙂

    Although while doing one of the exercises given in the book (the one where we are asked to list all the aspects of our life where we would like to have choice and where it wouldn’t really matter) I couldn’t come up with one single thing where I would prefer others to have to choose for me. Considering India would be regarded as a “Collectivist Society” (as defined in the book) it came as a surprise to me that I wouldn’t want even one single thing (whether of importance or not, for e.g. if I felt like not going for a party) to be chosen by someone else. So would this mean that the Indian youth today connect more with the theory of “Individualist Societies” as opposed to what our parents felt? Or, as stated in the book, the Japanese still tend to feel?

    • Me too actually, though when it comes to medical stuff I tend to do what the doctor thinks best – and prefer to rely on his judgement. Though even here – and correctly I think – most people are beginning to take a call about this as well, as one can trust very few people today. As for our society, I think we are somewhere in between but definitely leaning towards an individualistic stance.

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