The sad truth about decision-making, according to the bulk of scientific evidence on the subject, is that the people who spend the most time and energy obsessing over making exactly the right choice usually end up less happy with their decisions than the people who simply seek out the option that’s “good enough.” On the debut episode of the her podcast “Happier,” author Gretchen Rubin and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft discuss the two strategies, which psychologists call maximizing and satisficing.
Maximizers are the people who are so intent on making the optimal decision that they will often end up spending hours, weeks, maybe even years debating their options — and sometimes, that internal pressure to make the absolute best decision can keep them from ever deciding at all. Plus, as Swarthmore College psychologist Barry Schwartz writes in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, maximizers are more likely than satisficers to end up regretting the very decision they agonized over.
This tendency toward overthinking is what Craft said caused her to be unable to make the seemingly simple decision of what coffee table to purchase for her first apartment. There were so many options that it felt overwhelming, she said. And so for months, she used a cardboard box instead, until her friend and writing partner bought a cheap coffee table for her from a thrift store. That coffee table was fine, perfectly functional, and she used it for the next five years.
To be clear, it’s not that satisficers don’t care about the choices they’re making. It’s that they have a certain set of criteria, and once those boxes are checked, they make their decision quickly and move on with their lives. There’s a case to be made for making peace with “good enough.”