I’m thinking of buying a new mattress, and I just told Kent, “I think we’re going to mazimize on this, and it’s going to make us very, very unhappy.”
More Research = Less Satisfaction
That’s the painful irony of maximizing. The more you research, the better stuff you get. Yay! But the more you research the worse you feel about your stuff. Boo! Why? Maybe you see a bunch of great things before you buy one. Then burdened with all this information, you wonder whether you got the right one. Your second choice had a lot of good reviews, too, and maybe you should have prioritized x over z. Maybe you should have looked around more. Or maybe you’re just sad that you get only one, instead of all your top 4, or better yet a Frankensteined conglomeration of all the best qualities of your top 4.
This (among other reasons) is why Bachelor couples never work out. Nobody should have the chance to date 25 hot people before picking one. No one hot person can ever compare to 25 hot people at once.
The opposite of maximizing, according to Barry Schwarz’s The Paradox of Choice, is satisficing. While I agree that “satisficing” is as pukacious a word as successmanship and strategolutions, it’s a pretty sound concept. A maximizer approaches choice with the goal of learning everything about the object, reviewing all possible options, and choosing the absolute optimal version. A satisficer thinks much differently. Before reviewing any options, the satisficer thinks only about what he wants/needs from the object then takes the first one that checks all those boxes. I hear you saying, but won’t the maximizer get the better object? Yes. Most of the time she will. But the satisficer will enjoy her object more, so who wins? Do you care about superiority or happiness?
A Day in the Life of a Satisficer
Movie night. Before looking at options you ask yourself what you want to watch. You want to watch a spy movie that got decent reviews? You watch the first one you find on Netflix instead of scrolling through 200 spy movies from the last 50 years–or worse, opening up the range to all movies because maybe there’s a really amazing period drama that is way better than the top spy movie. Dinner with friends. You want to go to an Mediterranean restaurant that’s not too far away? You look exactly that up and pick one without pouring over fifty online menus, and looking for recommendations on foody blogs, and asking everybody in the party to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much they want to go to Thai, Mediterranean, or something else. Dating. You want to get married? You make a list of your 5 non-negotiables and marry the first person who meets them all.
Sounds crazy, right? Is it that much crazier than maximizing? The maximizer/Bachelor method here would be to date 100% of the available pool before making a decision, but then you risk eliminating someone before you knew they were the best! There’s an algorithm for that. Your best option is to date 37% of the available pool to get a sense of the range, then marry the next one you come across who is better than the others. Since my college choir has a much higher marriage rate than the Bachelor franchise, I’m guessing nobody on the production team over there has done the math. But again, even this algorithmic method is designed to maximize your probability of ending up with the best option, not your probability of being satisfied with your choice.
We found that people who are satisficers are generally more optimistic, happier, and less regretful than people who are maximizers. We did a study of college seniors looking for jobs and found that maximizers got better jobs but felt worse about the jobs they got than satisficers did. People who score as maximizers score as borderline clinically depressed.
Maximize While Satisficing
The blog post I originally read this on suggests becoming a satisficer with maximizer friends. You should be smart enough not to spend your life researching mattresses, but if possible, you should also have friends who do, so that you can ask them, “Hey, what kind of mattress did you buy?” Then you buy the same one. Regardless of whether or not it turns out to be The Best Mattress in the world for you, you’ll probably feel better about it.
But why am I telling you this? This is precisely why you’re all reading the blog of a compulsive maximizer and then buying the same living room stencil that took me 70 hours of research to settle upon. (Breaking News: Cutting Edge Stencils featured my living room on their blog today. Sweet!)
Does It Work?
My friend Megan told me about this research 2.5 years ago, and it kind of made me feel depressed because it kind of intimated that I might actually be depressed which is depressing. I’ve always been a maximizer, though I called myself a researcher, and proud of it! So I ignored it. Then some months ago, Kent brought up the maximizer/satisficer thing again, and since I’ve made a real commitment to making even drastic changes in my attitudes and activities that might make me happier, I decided to give satisficing a go. It’s been amazing!!
There are still things that I’m just not willing to eenie, meenie, miney, mo, (matching family Easter outfits are sacrosanct, for example) but for those that I have, I have had tremendously satisficing experiences. Like the Harvard shirts I did NOT want to spend precious hours of my reunion time trying to find the ultimate, best clothes for my boys. I thought beforehand about what I wanted (cute, preppy short sleeve shirts in 4T and zippy sweatshirts in 5T) and grabbed the first ones I saw that met those criteria. It was easy, the shirts are perfect (or at least they seem perfect to me because frankly, I didn’t look that closely at what else was available), and I had time after shopping to grab dinner with friends before heading to the airport. Satisfication.
I will also admit that almost every time I find my self maximizing, I also find myself dissatisfied with what I get. Like right now. I’m trying to buy spice jars, but I keep loading up my cart and not buying anything because as I online shop for them, I keep adding criteria to my list. What I really want are 60 chrome-capped, round, glass spice jars that are just under 2″ in diameter and 4.5″ tall for under $2 a piece, but such an animal is not to be found on the intertubes. I can find numerous spice jars that lack one or more of those criteria, but none that have them all. So all the available options disappoint me. I should have bought the first glass jars that fit in my spice rack and been done with it.
On the upside, everyone’s going to want a spice station exactly like mine when you see it. And every time I look at it, I’m going to be a little sad that it doesn’t have the magical unicorn spice jars from my maximizer imagination.
Which is all my very long-winded way of asking, “What kind of mattress did you buy?” I want to get a good one without learning anything about mattresses or reading any articles like this one. Comment or email. Thanks!
I hope you enjoyed this montage of pictures of dubious quality featuring Peppers in Disneyworld. Let’s end with a People Mover shot.