Month: September 2007

Are you a maximizer or a satisficer?

One thing you can say without fear of contradiction about the modern world is that we have more choice than ever before. Choice about careers; lifestyles; which city or suburb to live in; which house to buy; which car to buy; which school to send our kids to; which university to go to ourselves; which supermarket to shop in; which clothes to wear; which washing powder to buy; how to have our coffee; a never-ending list of choices assail us everywhere we go. How do we make these choices?

Research by psychologist Barry Schwartz from Swarthmore College in the States has shown that people consistently make choices in different ways. Some are maximizers – they keep looking until they have found the best possible choice among all of the alternatives. Others are satisficers – they search until they have found a choice that is good enough and then stop. People are all somewhere along this continuum, so some are more maximizers (more obsessive!) than others, and some satisficers are less selective than others. Where are you?

Comparing myself and my husband I have to say that I am a maximizer and he is a satisficer. When we are shopping for new spectacles, for example, I find a pair of spectacles I like and then I keep looking to see if there is anything better that I like more. He will find one that he likes, presumably that meets the criteria he had set, and buys them then and there. We constantly amaze (and annoy) each other to the point where it’s better if we don’t go shopping together.

Which decision style is better? Schwarz found that maximizers spent longer making a decision, as you would expect, but then they were less satisfied with their choices than the satisficers. Satisficers make a decision, are satisfied with the decision, and then move on. Maximizers, perhaps, are still looking around afterwards to see if they could have made a better choice even after it is too late. Satisficers are happier.

If you have identified yourself as a maximizer, how can you be more satisfied with the choices you make? Well, for a start, you might try to be more selective about which decisions you agonise over. If you are spending more than five minutes choosing a birthday card or a washing powder then perhaps you are not valuing your own time sufficiently. Keep the agonizing for the big decisions – the choice of schools, jobs, homes, partners, and set yourself goals for the small decisions to choose within a set time limit or within a restricted range.


Christopher Peterson, A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.


A discussion about happiness, wellbeing, mental health, or whatever you want to call it, must soon get around to values. What are your values? What is most important to you? What can you not do without in your relationships, your job, your social activities? What values do you want your kids to have? Your husband or wife? Your friends?

Any search on the internet on values will come up with a list to choose from. The list itself doesn’t really matter, what matters is whether you can find 3 or 4 or 5 values that mean something to you.

Here are some suggestions: Accomplishment, Admiration, Authenticity, Beauty, Belonging, Choice, Communication, Creativity, Excitement, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Health, Helping, Honesty, Humour, Independence, Individuality, Influence, Intimacy, Joy, Knowledge, Love, Money, Peace, Power, Recognition, Respect, Security, Self-determination, Self-fulfilment, Sensuality, Solitude, Stability, Status, Success.

Pick five, and then consider each one separately. How are these values displayed in your life right now? In your work? In your home life? In your hobbies or other activities? With your family? Think, too, about where these values came from. From your upbringing? Were they important to your parents as well? Or are they the opposite of what your parents valued? Do they fall into line with the culture at work?

Perhaps the values you are living by came from somewhere else? Which values would you prefer to live by? Perhaps, too, the values you’ve chosen are your own, and yet you find that they are getting lost in everyday life. There isn’t the time, or the money, to help others, or to be as creative as you would like. Or perhaps you have all the power and money that you could want or expect, and it still isn’t enough…

Questions like these can start you on the road to being happier than you are now.

What is happiness?

There are many definitions of happiness. For some it is a great bottle of wine at the end of the day. For others it is the satisfaction of helping out at a soup kitchen. It is different things to different people at different times.

The question really should be, what does “happiness” mean to you?

If you can’t answer this question then how will you know if you are happy? Or whether you could be happier?

The trick is to find an answer that is meaningful to you and then to work out how to get there. And then to actually get there. It might take work, and it might mean changes from how you live right now. It will be worth it.