When you’re trying to make a decision, how long do you explore alternatives? Are you okay with settling for “good enough” or does the idea of settling fill you with dread?
Some people have high standards and demand the absolute best. They want to make sure the new dishwasher they’ve selected is the top of the line, the college that they attend is the absolute best fit for them, and that their romantic partners are Mary Poppins grade, “practically perfect in every way.”
Psychologists call these folks maximizers. Typically, a maximizer will exhaust all available options, often doing an incredible amount of research before making their final decision, whether that’s reading every Yelp review in existence or swiping right or left ad infinitum… just to make extra super duper sure that they aren’t missing something just a teentsy bit better. Because the last thing a maximizer wants to do is settle for anything less than the very best.
Their counterparts are satisficers. As the name would suggest, a satsificer is generally satisfied with the decision they’re making so long as the choice is acceptable and meets their basic needs. Rather than being focused on coming as close as humanly possible to a theoretical maximum (“perfection”), satisficers are primarily concerned with making sure their choice exceeds their minimum (“good enough,” “pretty good”).
In theory, one might expect maximizers to not only go further in life than satisficers but to also be happier with their choices and happier in general, since they’ve striven for the very best.
However, that’s not at all what the research has shown. Instead:
- Maximizers do earn more than satisficers but enjoy their jobs less.
- Maximizers are more likely to be clinically depressed.
- In spite of spending more time and effort making their decisions, maximizers are more likely to regret choices they make than satisficers are.
- Maximizers are more likely to engage in social comparison than satisficers, to not derive much pleasure from finding they are better off than some others, and to become quite unhappy when realizing that certain other people are better off than them.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.
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