Here’s a fun little discussion starter: When you check out a restaurant menu, shop at a store, consider job opportunities, or even assess social companions, are you a “maximizer” or a “satisficer”?
A maximizer, according psychology professor Barry Schwartz (Swarthmore College), prefers to survey all possible choices in search of the very best option, even if it takes a lot of time to sift through the possibilities. A satisficer, by contrast, prefers to consider enough options to find one that works, and then selects it and moves on.
Schwartz discusses the maximizer vs. satisficer distinction in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (2004), in which he harnesses psychological data to show that an overabundance of choices can fuel anxieties, indecision, and unrealistically high expectations. This inquiry is especially relevant in cultures that place large premiums on having abundant consumer, vocational, and personal options.
Okay, but you may be asking, who is happier, the maximizer or the satisficer? The answer is, at least in terms of statistical probability, the satisficer. The maximizer is more likely to be daunted by the array of options and to second guess a decision. The satisficer is more likely to find a choice that works and not worry about the rest. Ultimately, suggests Schwartz, the satisficer approach is a happiness maximizer!
Of course, few people are embedded at either extreme, and for some, maximizer vs. satisficer traits may vary according to the situation. You may access Schwartz’s neat little 2004 Scientific American article that includes his 13-question survey and 7-point scale to help determine where you land on the spectrum.
Me? I’m mostly a satisficer. I tend to assess my options and make my choices quickly. And if the result is pretty good, then I’m okay with it and rarely look back and wonder “what if.” Not always, but usually.
I first learned about the maximizer vs. satisficer distinction in a free online course, “The Science of Happiness,” taught by leading experts in positive psychology. Here’s my write-up about the course, including a link to the course registration information.