I’ve been fascinated for a while by the ideas in Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice. To put it bluntly: having more choices doesn’t make us happier. In fact, often it makes us less happy. Also, turns out that sweating over a choice often serves to just make us more invested in making the best choice. So that researching, weighing, considering, talking, listening — all the things that we do before some choices — make us care a whole bunch about getting the decision exactly right. And then when don’t, we are even more disappointed. People who make that choice without all the sweat and toil are often happier with the outcome — even if it wasn’t the “perfect” choice.

I got to thinking about all of this again last week at Brasserie Beck — one of the city’s best beer locations, with a beer list that would make any beer snob swoon. (I’d link to it here but the restaurant has an artsy and totally frustrating Web site that is just a giant Flash graphic so I can’t. Next campaign: free the beer lists from the tyranny of proprietary software.) Back to Beck … I had taken the day off and ended up there for a late lunch, solo. I’ve been told the place is packed in the evening though this was my first visit (I know, embarrassing). I sat at the nearly empty bar, enjoying the solitude. But then was presented with the mammoth beer list. Where to begin? First, I eliminated all the beers that I had heard of — no Kasteel Rouge, Delirium Tremens or Duvel. I was in the mood for something entirely new. Second, I eliminated anything over $10. I spent time imagining what life event I would have to be celebrating to justify a $70 beer. They all involve international awards or class-action lawsuit victories. Still, I found the list daunting. Usually, I’d ask for some help from the bartender but the woman behind the bar was brand new and couldn’t pronounce any of the beers much less talk about them.

Floreffe TrippelSo after five minutes of perusing the 16 pages, I put the list down and picked up the little plastic card highlighting the lunch specials. Ah, simplicity. I ordered the polish sausage (with the gruyere, of course) and then at the bottom I saw three beer specials. I chose the Floreffe Trippel: “medium in body and sweet to the nose with hints of spice and light fruits.”

It was all those things. Plus, it was $5. And I had invested even less in the choice. So yes, in the end, I made the cheap choice. Also, at least for me on that day, the smart one.