Instead of focusing on depression, despair, and anxiety, many psychologists are zeroing in on topics such as self-esteem, self-actualization, and even happiness. While some serious scholars might scoff at the study of happiness as frivolous, others see it as important, perhaps even essential.
Aristotle viewed happiness as “the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Centuries later, people are still searching for its meaning, existence, and causes. Is it inherited? Does it change according to income, health, or good fortune? Or what about misfortune, loss, and disability?
Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and creator of the related blog and podcast, has tackled the concept of happiness with zeal. Although she isn’t a psychologist, Rubin incorporates the theories of philosophers and psychologists into her personal observations and experiences. A gifted writer, she makes learning about happiness fun.
One of Rubin’s ideas is based on that of psychologist Barry Swartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Swartz contends that choice overload can actually make us less happy as we set our expectations too high. Should I have tried the vanilla latte or the sea salt caramel hot chocolate?? And what about paint color? Would Soothing Aloe look better on the dining room walls than Morning Zen? And then there’s the relationship issue. While we’re warned to “never settle,” you have to wonder if there’s really Mr. or Ms. Right waiting in the wings.
Instead of agonizing on and on about decisions, Swartz and Rubin advise readers to go with “good enough.” People who do so are called satisficers and are generally happier than those who make perfection a quest. They’re called maximizers.
Years ago, I had to go car shopping after a fender bender. Friends inundated me with information about price, makes, models, reviews, mileage estimates, and deals. I listened for a while but then began to get a little dizzy with so many facts and opinions. After work one afternoon, I drove the rental car into Sparks Toyota with some ideas about what I wanted. Small, good on gas, and affordable were the top criteria. I knew I couldn’t buy a new car, but I didn’t want to buy a clunker either. As soon as I walked on the lot, I saw it: a dark green Corolla that was two years old. The salesman was a little surprised at the quick decision, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it or sway me to a more expensive option.
I loved that little car! It lasted and lasted and lasted.
“Most people don’t buy cars like that,” an incredulous friend remarked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, John and I do a little research first. And then we go to dealerships in Florence, Myrtle Beach, or wherever we see something we want to look at.”
“That would make me crazy…or crazier.”
She admitted that it usually took several months for them to make a decision and that even then, she and her husband ended up second guessing themselves. They’re maximizers, and I’m a satisficer.
What about you? Are you a satisfier or an maximizer? Do you strive for perfection, or can you be happy with “good enough?”