How to Choose

Is your best choice often the “good enough choice?” Barry Schwartz thinks so. He’s a Psychology researcher investigating how people make choices and how what they’ve  chosen affects them afterwards. It’s about the intersection of decision-making and satisfaction.

Dr Schwartz was interviewed by Amy Alkon about what he’s discovered about decision-making and satisfaction. Some of his findings go against what most of us think is true.

Decision-makers can be split into two groups, “maximizers”and “satisfizers.” A maximizer  is concerned with making the best choice from every possible available option. Whereas the satisfizer will choose what seems to be the good enough choice.

The maximizers do tend to make the optimum choice out of all that’s on offer, but… they wind up feeling worse about their results! Here’s a key insight, telling a maximizer that they’re doing better than someone else has less effect on them than pointing out they’re doing less well than someone else. Satisfizers report that their good enough choices make them happy.

Schwartz gives the example of choosing a college. Instead of picking a college that’ll be the best overall fit for the maximizer as a student and person, he’ll strive for the “best” college. And then, he’ll usually wind up at a good college but not getting as much out of it because a maximizer will be constantly regretting not getting into a Yale or Harvard. Or if a maximizer gets in to the best college, would it have been a better experience to go to the right college for their overall needs?

When it comes time to select a job after school, a maximizer will aim for the highest salary. The maximizers who were studied spent more time, gathered more information, sought out more options, and looked at what the people around them were doing. And, they secured jobs paying 20% more on average. But are they 20% happier? The researchers found that by every psychological measurement they felt worse. You do better but you feel worse.

And once they start working, you can be sure they know someone who’s making more than they are. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.