All of us face decisions every day that potentially affect our emotional well-being. Some of these decisions are small and insignificant (i.e., chocolate or vanilla ice cream?) Other decisions appear to be much more significant (i.e., should I retire at age 65 or 70?) Research has found two primary strategies in the way we make decisions: maximizing and satisficing.
Maximizing is a decision strategy in which we search for alternatives with the goal of making the very best choice of being right.
Satisficing is a decision strategy that settles for a good enough choice.
Choosing the maximizing decision strategy involves spending more time, mental energy, and mental effort in order to obtain the best possible choice available. One significant problem arises with the maximizing style (looking for the best/right decision) when the decision maker finds that the “best” option is not that much better than the one that can pass for simply “good enough”.
Maximizing can be even more counterproductive when it is impossible to identify a best option. This happens when our goals are not clear, there are large numbers of similar options, or we have too strict of time limits in order to make the “right” decision.
As Dr. Wandi Bruine de Bruin and her colleagues wrote in the journal Psychology and Aging, (2016), that our decision strategies may change as we age. Typically younger adults tend to exert more effort in decision-making. They tend to be “maximizers”. Older “satisficing” adults usually search for fewer options, prefer fewer choices, and consider less information. “Maximizers” look for more alternatives before making their choices and often become overwhelmed. This leads to less happiness.
These researchers found that older adults were less inclined to engage in the energy expending process of maximizing. Dr. de Bruin states, older adults’ lesser maximizing and alternative search (methods) was associated with better experienced emotional well-being, including more positive affect and less negative affect. Possibly, older adults are more likely than younger adults to engage in decision strategies that keep them happy.
What this means is that younger people tend to over-think and over-collect the information they need in order to make the right decision. Older adults tend to let go of that strategy and are willing to accept a good enough decision. And that leads to measurably increased levels of happiness.
Apparently older and more experienced people tend to be willing to let go of unreasonable expectations and desires in their decision make styles. They are more seasoned in letting go of what “has to be right”. It sounds like Dr. de Bruin might ask my patients the same question I often do: do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Research appears to be on the side of good enough. Maximizing older people still have time to ease up with a practical style change.
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