Satisficers vs. Maximizers

A blog that I’m simply addicted to is The Happiness Project. Author Gretchen Rubin probably knows not about my loyal following, but many of her tips and thoughts often inspire me. Her blog isn’t some mindless rambling — akin to mine — she writes her posts with a purpose.

My favorite thought from her, however, is on the subject of satisficers and maximizers.

Satisficers (yes, satisfice is a word, I checked) are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.

She goes on to give examples between satisficers and maximizers, but one notable thought resounds:

Barry Schwartz argues that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers must spend a lot more time and energy to reach a decision, and they’re often anxious about whether they are, in fact, making the best choice.

She says early on that "most people are a mix of both approaches" and I am certainly guilty of this myself. In the days leading up to look for an apartment, I printed dozens of  "for rent" ads, trolled the philadelphia craigslist mercilessly, hunted down and snatched up every apartment guide along the Main Line, fearlessly tabbing anything and everything I wanted to go see. Anything that didn’t meet my husband’s criteria (or price range, for that matter), was swiftly untabbed. The mother-in-law works near a business that owns a good bit of real estate along the Main Line and obtained an apartment listing for us. My husband and I checked off additional properties we’d be willing to look at and the MIL set up an appointment for us to look at rental properties. We were scheduled to view three. One of the three was rented out by the time our appointment came around and another the first one we looked caused my husband to have a near-claustrophobic fit. (He’s 6’2" and the ceiling barely grazed his head.) The final one we looked at had a spacious second-floor ceiling (a comfortable foot or two above my husband’s head) with a loft. The loft, of course, had lower ceilings but we determined that for the most part, it would be my space (I’m just under 5’4") and that if he were up there, he’d likely be sitting down. We saw the spaciousness, the convenience (I’m a 2-minute walk to the train station and he’s a 5-10 minute drive to work) and the privacy (we’re the only nighttime tenants in the building) and were immediately hooked. It didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted the apartment, even though it was at the very high end of our price range. Just one day, a look at two properties and we’d both decided in a matter of minutes where we both wanted to live. I’d been a maximizer about searching for an apartment, but when it came to looking, I was a satisficer.

When it comes to jobs though, I am a BIG maximizer. I’m ambitious, always hoping to climb up the career ladder more quickly than I’m meant to so I am constantly doing a job search (even though I don’t plan on going anywhere from my current job for now) and always on the lookout for opportunities to freelance in copy editing and writing.

When it comes to shopping, I’m a satisficer. It can often cost me more in the long run — maximizers are usually the bargain shoppers — but when I plunk down my plastic, I’m quite happy with my purchase at regular price and feel no need to go hunting elsewhere for a similar outfit with a better deal.

Rubin ends her post saying, "It’s one of Life’s True Rules: let someone else do the research." I’ll add to that – "let someone else do the research, if you haven’t done it already." The difference between $29.50 at one store and $21.50 at another is a savings worth a meal at the mall. Being a satisficer isn’t bad, but being a maximizer can sometimes work to your advantage.

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