Maximisers vs. Satisficers – Which are you?

I just finished reading this book called ‘Happiness’ by Richard Layard, a leading economist from LSE who believes that the happiness of a society does not necessarily equate to its income. In his book, his research into the subject of happiness delves into diverse areas such as psychology, neuroscience, economics, religion, sociology and philosophy. Among the many interesting insights he provides, this is one that caught my attention:

“Increasingly today, people feel that they must make the most of everything. In other words, rather than being happy with what is good enough, they must have the best. This puts them under enormous strain for there is always the risk of missing an opportunity. Continuous reoptimisation (sometimes dignified by the name “flexibility”) is the real enemy of happiness.

One gets some idea of the strain of optimising by comparing the happiness of “maximisers” (who seek the best) and “satisficers” (who are content with what is good enough). Barry Schwartz of Swathmore College and his colleagues have devised good scales that enable us to sort people into these two categories, and we do indeed find that the maximsers are less happy than the satisficers. Maximisers may indeed get some better “objective” outcome through all their searching, but even so, they are less happy. Why?

One reason is that they have more regrets. When they have made a decision and implemented it, they continue to analyze what would have happened if they had taken a different decision. Another reason is that they are more prone to social comparisons. If they are given a task that is also given a peer, their happiness at the end of the task is greatly affected by whether they did better or worse than their peer; this is not true of those who are simply satisficers.”

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~ by irwin on February 2, 2012.

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