“Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” said the existential philosopher Albert Camus on the burden of choice — there’s one to be made in every area and every moment of our lives. And the more choices and options we have, the harder it becomes to make a good decision.
While Camus died in 1960, the paradox of choice he highlighted is more prominent than ever 61 years later. (And I’m guessing it’s only going to get worse from hereon.) Because right now, we’re dealing with choices, alternatives to these choices, and alternatives to the alternatives!
That might be good from a “freedom of choice” perspective, but people respond to choices differently. There are the ignorants, maximisers, and satisficers. Let me explain:
The ignorant’s reaction is almost always automatic: “screw the alternatives” and look for one that makes the most sense or is easy to understand. As you can tell, they end up with disappointing results. The worst part is that they would blame themselves for being a sucker at evaluating the available options before deciding. (And they’d be right about that!)
Then there are the maximisers, who will evaluate every available alternative to the product before the purchase. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $10 product or a $500,000 apartment; they will treat the investments with the same vigour. Their choices are (way more) demanding and yet, less fulfilling as they can’t accept anything but the best of the best. Anything less will make them unhappy.
The third kind is the satisficers. They can choose quickly and decisively. They have a simple decision-making strategy — have a certain standard instead of the “best,” begin the search until they find the option that meets their standard, and stop searching. That’s it! For a satisficer, the world is divided into options that meet their standards and options that don’t. And they focus all their energies on finding something that fits the first category.
I’ll be honest — I used to be ignorant for the longest time before turning into a satisficer. And like any other habit, you can develop it over time with conscious practice. I was lucky to have friends* who were maximisers, and it became painfully irritating to plan, decide, or even brainstorm ideas when I was with them. I decided to look for a path that’s in between the two extremes.
Sure, there are times when I choose to be ignorant when I feel I don’t want to expend my time or energy to evaluate options or make a decision. And I have realised that is okay since I know I can tap into my satisficer persona to help me decide without wasting time to compare, contemplate, or seek that “perfect” option.
If you’re a satisficer, consider yourself fortunate since the number of options that the average person is inundated by won’t affect your decision making. And if you aren’t one, don’t lose heart; you can become one by letting go of any expectation and acknowledging that “the best” doesn’t exist. Good enough does, and it’s attainable, at will.
There’s evidence that happiness and our levels of satisfaction are related. And if that’s the case, becoming a satisficer might be one of the most powerful (and grossly underrated) ways to be happier. All you need to do is let go of your expectations. How hard would that be for you?
I would leave at that while you get yourself a cup of coffee.
- speaking of maximiser friends — one of my best friends cancelled his “bachelors” after 35 days of intense searching and evaluation he couldn’t find the “best” venue to accommodate 20 of his closest friends… we’re now meeting at his place for cocktails.
- I remember booking a venue for a division conference with guests from over three states in 2016. It took me 15 minutes to find a venue another 10 minutes to complete the booking formalities. It was one of the best-organized conferences for my professional association that year.