Happiness Myth No. 4: You’ll Be Happier If You Insist on “The Best.”

As I’ve studied happiness over the past few years, I’ve learned many things that surprised me. Each day for two weeks, I’m debunking one “happiness myth” that I believed before I started my happiness project. Yesterday I wrote about Happiness Myth No. 3: Venting anger relieves it.

Happiness Myth No. 4: You’ll Be Happier If You Insist on “The Best.”

Maybe not. As Barry Schwartz explains in his fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice, there are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met; when they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision; even if they see a bicycle that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option.

Studies suggest that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices. They find the research process exhausting, yet can’t let themselves settle for anything but the best.

As a shopper, my mother is a good example of a “happy limited maximizer.” In some categories, she’s a maximizer, and she loves the very process of investigating every possibility. When my daughters were flower-girls in my sister’s wedding, my mother would have loved nothing more than to examine every possible dress, just for the fun of it. In other categories, however, she’s a satisficer.

I’m a satisficer, and I often felt guilty about not doing more research before making decisions. In law school, one friend interviewed with fifty law firms before she decided where she wanted to go as a summer associate; I think I interviewed with six. We ended up at the same firm. Once I learned to call myself a “satisficer,” I felt more satisfied with my approach to decision-making; instead of feeling lazy and unconscientious, I could call myself prudent.

It’s one of the Secrets of Adulthood: Most decisions don’t require extensive research. In some situations, the happier course is to know when good enough is good enough, and not to worry about making the perfect choice.

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  • bg

    This is an awesome posting. I’m very much a satisficer, and in constant battle with some maximizers, never getting just why the hell they invest so much time into barely better outcomes and never seem to be able to stop at 80%. Now that I know the difference between our thinking, it’ll be much easier to deal with them.

  • kr9st9n

    I’ve recently debunked my husband’s complaining when I ‘just do’ – when I pick – usually from a thrift store. The item is immediately integrated/used with the bonus of not worrying about damaging it. Many times, these purchases become staples
    Its done. Over. I’ve moved on from the hunt to enjoying, being. And if it wasn’t right, little cost and time was invested so letting go is easier.

  • jb

    But sometimes it makes sense to be a little more selective. The hard part is knowing when you’re doing too much shopping around — I think of the guys I’ve known who, after the first serious relationship in their lives didn’t work out, began to move on from every subsequent relationship at the first sign of imperfection — and when you’re not shopping around enough.