Tag Archives: decision-making

How I Used Lessons from Happiness and Habits to Help Me Buy a Backpack.

I carry a backpack with me everywhere. I practically never use a purse, just my backpack.

Recently, the zipper on my backpack broke, so this afternoon I bought a new one (see photo).  It got me thinking about some lessons that I’ve learned about happiness, habits — and myself.

Lesson 1: Why did I find it strangely satisfying that the zipper broke? Because I’m a finisher.

Some people love finishing, and some people love opening—both literally and figuratively. Finishers love the feeling of bringing a project to completion, and they’re determined to use the last drop in the shampoo bottle; openers thrill to the excitement of launching a new project, and find pleasure in opening a fresh tube of toothpaste.

When something breaks, like a zipper, that’s a clear sign that a thing is finished — and as a finisher, I find that very gratifying.

Lesson 2: Why didn’t I feel bad about going to just one store to choose a backpack? Because I’m a satisficer.

Satisficers make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

Maximizers, by contrast, want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.

I live in New York City, with a million stores, and to buy my backpack, I went straight back to the store where I bought my old one, two blocks from my apartment, and of the three realistic backpack choices, chose one.

Lesson 3: Despite Lessons 1 and 2, I nevertheless felt a twinge of reluctance to buy the new backpack. Why? Because I’m an under-buyer.  We under-buyers really dislike the process of buying, and will go to elaborate lengths to avoid it. Over-buyers, on the other hand, go out of their way to find reasons to buy.

That’s a lot of self-knowledge to process in a single afternoon! But mission accomplished.

Want to know if you’re a finisher or an opener? Look here.

Want to know if you’re a satisficer or maximizer? Listen to my sister and me discuss it on the very first episode of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Want to know if you’re an under-buyer or over-buyer? Take this quiz.

Secret of Adulthood: Focus Not on Doing Less, or Doing More, but on Doing What You Value.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

I never think about “balance,” because that suggests that there’s room for everything, if I could just juggle it correctly. Now I tell myself, “I have plenty of time for the things I love to do”–which means dropping things that I don’t love to do. This mantra has really helped me make better decisions about how to spend my time.

How about you? Do you have any strategies for making sure that you spend your time doing what you value?

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Story: Don’t Let the Desire to Feel “Legitimate” Drive Your Decisions.

This week’s video story: Don’t let the desire to feel “legitimate” drive your decisions.

 

Ah, more words of wisdom from my sister, the sage.  She was so right. There I was, clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and feeling very illegitimate in my work. So get over it, already!

If you’d like to read more about this, check out The Happiness Project, chapter three.  Or you might be interested in this talk I gave about the subject of “drift“–and how I pulled myself out of drift, and switched from law to writing.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.7 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe.

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Don’t Be Tricked by These 5 Common Mental Rules of Thumb.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: Beware of these five common heuristics.

One of my favorite topics within cognitive science is the concept of heuristics. Heuristics are the quick, commonsense principles we apply to solve a problem or make a decision.

Often, heuristics are very helpful rules of thumb, but they can also lead us to make dumb mistakes. Recognizing how heuristics operate can sometimes make it easier to be wary of the pitfalls.

Here are some common heuristics:

Recognition heuristic: if you’re faced with two items, and you recognize one but not the other, you assume that the recognized one is of higher value. If you’ve heard of Munich, Germany, but you’ve never heard of Minden, Germany, you assume that Munich is the bigger city. If you’ve heard of A Wrinkle in Time, but you haven’t heard of The Silver Crown, you assume that the first book is better than the second. When in fact they’re both outstanding children’s books!

Likelihood heuristic: you predict the likelihood of an event based on how easily you can think of an example. How worried should you be about child abduction by a stranger? What’s riskier, donating a kidney or having your gallbladder removed?

Anchor and adjust heuristic: you base an answer too heavily on some piece of first information. If someone says, “How old is Woody Allen? Twenty-five?” you’d probably guess his age to be younger than you would if someone said, “How old is Woody Allen? Ninety-five?” even though you know that both suggestions are incorrect.

Social proof: if you’re not sure about something, you assume that you should be guided by what other people are doing. You’re wondering whether to sign up for my monthly newsletter, which features highlights from the blog and Facebook. You’re not sure, but when I say, “157,000 people subscribe to it,” you think, “Yes, I do want to sign up!” You can sign up here. (End of blatant self-promotion.)

Fluency heuristic: if it’s easier to say or think something, it seems more valuable. For instance, an idea that’s expressed in a rhyming phrase seems more convincing than the same idea paraphrased in a non-rhyming phrase. When I decided to spend some time every weekend crossing long-delayed, horrible items off my to-do list,  I considered calling that time my To-Do List Time, but then switched the name to Power Hour. Much more compelling.

How about you? Do you have any examples of how you’ve used these heuristics, or other heuristics that you employ?

Story: That Unreasonable Demand Might Not Be So Unreasonable

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: That unreasonable demand might not be so unreasonable.

 

Can’t see the video? Click here.

As I explain in the video, I read this story about Van Halen in Chip and Dan Heath’s fascinating book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, which I highly recommend.

How about you? Have you ever shook your head over someone’s unreasonable demand, only to discover that there was a very sound reason for it?

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.5 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

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