My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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

CerberusAs 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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