The Best Strategy for Choosing Friends Is to Aim for ‘Good Enough’

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve added, deleted, and then readded no less than a dozen pairs of shoes to my Amazon cart. To date, I have not bought a single one. And I know, if I’m being completely honest with myself, that I’m probably going to do this at least a dozen more times before I pull the trigger.

In theory, this was supposed to be easy: I need a specific style of shoe for a wedding I’m bridesmaiding (is that a verb? that should be a verb) in a couple months. The problem is that Amazon has zillions of them, and I tend to be what psychologists call a maximizer: someone who scrutinizes every possible choice again and again until they’ve found the absolute best of what’s out there. Broadly speaking, there are two types of decision-makers: there are maximizers, and then there are satisficers, who run through the options until they’ve found one that fits their needs and then stop. Satisficers probably have an easier time finding shoes on the internet.

That’s not the only reason to fight your maximizer instincts, though. There’s a lot of power in aiming for “good enough”: Research has shown that satisficers tend to be happier with their choices, and less likely to regret them later. That’s true for stuff, and it’s also true for friendships: According to a multipart study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, being a maximizer when deciding who to spend your time with is a pretty easy way to make yourself unhappy.

In one experiment, the authors recruited a group of college freshmen who had just gone through sorority and fraternity rush, asking them to fill out a survey about their emotional experience during the process. The survey also contained questions designed to determine their status as a maximizer or a satisficer; those who fell into the latter group, the researchers found, were overall happier with both the rush process and the organization where they ended up. The same thing was true of upperclassmen on the other side of the recruitment process: the satisficers were more likely to say they were still content with the fraternity or sorority they chose and pleased with the new members they had just brought in.

In another experiment, the researchers asked volunteers to keep a daily log of all the time they spent socializing. “We found that on days when people maximized while selecting who to spend time with, people were less satisfied with their lives, experienced greater negative emotion, and reported lower levels of self-esteem on that day,” they wrote in a Society for Personality and Social Psychology blog post. This was especially true when the participants had several different options of who to hang out with; when the choices were more abundant, the maximizers’ well-being took a greater hit. Sometimes — on Amazon, in life — it’s best to limit your options, quit searching, and focus your energy on warming up to whatever, or whoever, you already have.

The Best Strategy for Picking Friends: Aim for ‘Good Enough’