How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are

Photo credit:Wall Street Journal

Do you tend to take your time before making a decision–analyzing the pros and cons as you check out and weigh different options. Or do you usually make decisions relatively quickly without the need to agonize over every detail? Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein discusses the latest research on how our decision-making style affects our happiness.

She points to research by psychologists who find there are two basic types of decision-makers. “Maximizers” are the ones who want to explore all the available choices open to them so they can make the best possible decision versus “satisfiers” who are fine with making decisions quickly as long as it solves the problem at hand.

As Swarthmore psychology professor Dr. Barry Schwartz, puts it: “Maximizers are people who want the very best. Satisfiers are people who want good enough.” Dr. Schwartz also created a test to help you to understand to what degree you are a maximizer or a satisfier.

In a 2006 published study of college seniors looking for jobs, Dr. Schwartz and his colleagues found that maximizers tended to get better jobs at a higher initial salary than satisfiers. So why were they more likely not to be as happy with their job? He says of the finding: “The maximizer is kicking himself because he can’t examine every option and at some point had to just pick something. Maximizers make good decisions and end up feeling bad about them. Satisfiers make good decisions and end up feeling good.”

The researchers also discovered that satisfiers were usually more satisfied and happier with their lives and less depressed than maximizers. And as we grow older, Dr. Schwartz says we are more likely to become satisfiers: “One of the things that life teaches you is that ‘good enough’ is ‘good enough.’ You learn that you can get satisfaction out of wonderful, but not perfect outcomes.”

The Wall Street Journal,10/6/14

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