One thing we learned this morning: slow and steady does not win the race.
At least, not when it comes to making decisions.
Reporting on Prof. Barry Schwartz’ research on decision-making, Elizabeth Bernstein explains that people who make quick decisions are happier overall than people who take the time to ponder before deciding.
The reason: those who decide quickly are willing to settle for something that is good enough. Those who take the time to think over all the options tend to be seeking perfection.
Of course, some decisions are more complex than others. And some people make better snap decisions than others.
The research seems to have eliminated these aspects of the problem.
Schwartz calls those who decide quickly, satisficers, meaning people who are satisfied with something that will suffice. He calls those who seek perfection, maximizers.
I find the terms to be less than satisfactory.
Bernstein summarizes the argument:
“The maximizer is kicking himself because he can’t examine every option and at some point had to just pick something,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Maximizers make good decisions and end up feeling bad about them. Satisficers make good decisions and end up feeling good.”
Dr. Schwartz says he found nothing to suggest that either maximizers or satisficers make bad decisions more often.
Satisficers also have high standards, but they are happier than maximizers, he says. Maximizers tend to be more depressed and to report a lower satisfaction with life, his research found.
The older you are, the less likely you are to be a maximizer—which helps explain why studies show people get happier as they get older.
“One of the things that life teaches you is that ‘good enough’ is almost always good enough,” Dr. Schwartz says. “You learn that you can get satisfaction out of perfectly wonderful but not perfect outcomes.”
It would certainly be nice to live in a world where everyone makes good decisions. And yet, one suspects that someone who possesses a wealth of human experience can make quicker good decisions than can someone who is young and naive.
Of course, there might be other reasons why older people are, on the whole, happier than younger people. Some researchers believe that older people are less narcissistic, less self-involved, less self-important and thus more likely to have better relationships with friends and acquaintances.
Being less narcissistic might also mean that your instincts are more attuned to the situation at hand.
On the joys of experience, Anna North quotes Oliver Sachs:
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.
And yet, what happens when two young people, people who are likely to be less experienced, are faced with the need to choose a spouse.
Should they make a quick decision, thinking that the person is good enough or should they take their time, contemplate the modalities and wait to find the One?
Do you think that someone who chooses quickly will be making as good a decision as will someone who chooses slowly?
Does the level of satisfaction depend, in part or on the whole on expectations? When someone chooses slowly perhaps he is more happy because he does not expect perfection in his mate?
If age and experience matter, we must note that young people are young and relatively inexperienced in these matters. How can they ensure that they are making a good decision on a matter of such vital importance?
They might seek out and respect the advice of someone older and wiser, someone who cares about them more than anyone else… a parent.