Satisficer or Maximizer?

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?”




Pushing through Fear


This blog has several entries related to fear. Some are on taking chances, and others are on overcoming fear and anxiety. Still others explore the sources of some of our fears while others point out the many benefits of being courageous and stepping out of our comfort zones. This week I’ve been revisiting Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and am sharing some of her fear “truths” with you.

  1. The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.
  3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out…and do it.
  4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
  5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

I particularly like the first “fear truth” because although it sounds a little paradoxical, it’s actually true. The fact that I feel a little anxious or jittery about new ventures lets me know that I’ve still got some growing to do. I’m not a finished product, and neither are you. Now I can look at fear as a good thing and square my shoulders, take a deep breath, and just do it.

Jeffers says that many people play the “when/then” game. You’re familiar with that game, right? A woman says, “When my children start to school, then I’m going to start back to school myself.”  Or, “When I get in shape, I’m going to start playing tennis.” Or how about this one? “When I’m more confident, I’ll move out on my own.”  Don’t play that game. Just feel the fear and do it anyway…if you want to keep growing, that is.

Do you think Dr. Jeffers is right? Can you see that feeling fear can actually be a good thing, a sign that growth is about to take place? Is there a situation you can share in which you’ve experienced fear and pushed right through it? Or are you one of those who’s playing “when/then” right this very minute?









You Gotta Want it!

I’ve been reading a great book entitled Goals, Guides, & Groups by Diane Fulcher, and one of the reasons I’m enjoying it so much is because of the neat stories that the author includes. In the chapter entitled “Goals that Encourage Achievement: You Gotta Want It,” she writes of an incident that involved a lesson from her young granddaughter. This little tyke’s attitude is a perfect one to consider at the beginning of a semester.

When our granddaughter was 2 and well into that exploratory stage, she was forever testing the limits of her words and her physical prowess. Climbing seemed to be one of her specialties—along with not letting go of things she treasures, chasing our dog around the house in the eternal hope of befriending her, and knowing the surprises in her favorite book.

Her parents are careful she doesn’t hurt herself but also want to encourage her to try things on her own and learn to push through adversity and challenges. Her dad encourages her with the words, “You gotta want it.” The day she decided she was too big for the Pack-n-Play (a portable crib for traveling) was the day she determined to climb over the top of her perceived prison. Just before she cleared the bar, her parents in the nearby room, heard her grunt, “You gotta want it.” After falling safely on the carpeted floor she raised her hands in victory, proclaiming, “I want it.”

Does this anecdote and its message reverberate with you? Although the story is a simple one, it contains much truth. Daily I hear people saying they want to lose weight, save money, make A’s, move out of “Dodge,” or get a great job. But how much do they want it? What about you? Share something you really want to happen in your life and whether repeating the 2-year-old’s phrase might help you.

You and Only You


Does this poster speak to you? I bet it does. It says something to me even though I’m pretty good at remembering who’s in charge of my life, and if I forget, there are plenty of people to remind me. If I’ve heard, “If it is to be, it’s up to me” once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Seriously.

And yet it’s so easy to blame someone else. It could be your alcoholic father or your demanding girlfriend. If that doesn’t work, blame your unreasonable boss or your cranky co-worker. Teachers get blamed a lot too. If only they weren’t so picky, you’d make the Dean’s List every semester. Unfortunately, little children get blamed for a parents’ failures too.

And things. Let’s don’t forget things. I’ve been guilty of this one too. Every year I usually participate in at least two half-marathons, one in Myrtle Beach and one in the Outer Banks. I NEVER finish in my hoped-for time, and I ALWAYS have a bagful of excuses. From the weather to terrain to a sore throat, I rarely look at the real culprit—lack of proper preparation.

While on the subject of things, isn’t it the same with schoolwork? People claim to be underprepared for tests because of a job that requires overtime when in actuality they have plenty of hours when they aren’t working. Instead of studying, however, they’re having fun with friends or watching America’s Got Talent. That’s fine. We all need some R & R. Just don’t blame poor grades on your job. Blame them on your poor time management skills.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I dined on the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, a delightful experience which illustrates Dr. Dyer’s concept perfectly. We were outside of the one of the restaurants sitting at a picnic table when a woman approached us and asked if she and her friends could sit with us.

“Sure,” I said. It was a busy night, and I knew that sharing would be inevitable sooner than later. Stuck together for that hour in time, we chit chatted and got to know a little something about one another. The experience was enjoyable, and yet one of the women’s responses to just about every comment and inquiry was a textbook illustration to Dr. Dyer’s quote.

After talking about her husband’s love of going to nightspots where there was loud music, she said, “I hate loud noises. I just want to be where it’s quiet.”

“Why don’t you stay home and enjoy the peace?” I asked.

She gave me a steely look that said, “Are you crazy?” and then said, “If I did that, I’d be by myself all the time.”

After a few minutes, she told me how much her back hurt, and her husband, a fun and lively person, shared that her pain was caused by riding on the back of the Harley.

“Why keep doing something that causes pain?” I asked.

While she glared at me, her husband said that she wasn’t strong enough to drive a motorcycle and that if she wanted to ride, then she had to ride on the back. Their food arrived just then, and he began adding ketchup to his fries. She hadn’t ordered anything and by way of explanation said, “I hate this kind of food.”

I didn’t say anything. I just ate my flounder and pondered the situation. How many people go to restaurants they don’t like, travel in ways that cause pain, and endure entertainment they abhor rather than change their lives? And how many of them blame other people for their misery instead of admitting, “What I do is my choice.”

What about you?


Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

Reading the introductory emails and first discussion posts for the semester has been an uplifting experience. Here’s why. There are several people in a human relations course who have had the courage to change their lives when things no longer “worked.”

The communication between my students and me has reminded me of a heroine in one of the Grimm Brothers’ stories, Rapunzel. Remember her? Trapped in a tower with no way of escape, her singing attracts the attention of a handsome young prince. Rapunzel lets down her hair so that the suitor can climb up for a visit. When the enchantress (witch?) who put her in the tower finds out about these clandestine visits, she gets so angry that she cuts Rapunzel’s hair and sends her away to fend for herself. Eventually, Rapunzel and the prince are reunited and live happily ever after.

But back to the story. Rapunzel is in a high tower in the middle of the woods with no way to get out. There’s no staircase and no door. When the witch comes to see her, she says, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.” Later, the prince says the same thing.

Can you imagine being in such a situation? Don’t you know she was unhappy and wanted to get out? I wonder how she felt and what she must have thought when the witch and/or the prince left her for lives outside of the tower. Why didn’t she do something to change her life?

Why didn’t Rapunzel cut her own hair, make a ladder of it, and climb down to freedom?

Do you know someone like Rapunzel who is unhappy in a relationship, job, or geographic location who keeps waiting for rescue? Someone who is waiting for the witch to come and cut her hair and set her free? Someone who is waiting for his parents to give him permission to move to another town? Someone who despises his job but keeps hoping that one day things will improve? Someone who longs to meet that special someone but won’t do put forth the effort to meet him or her?

Why doesn’t the person rescue herself?

 Here are three scenarios I heard about just this week:

  • A young man, an artistic one, who wants to go to SCAD (Savannah School of Art Design) but is reluctant to leave Myrtle Beach.
  • Someone who is ill-fitted for his profession but doesn’t want to disappoint his parents. He keeps waiting for their permission to “set him free.”
  • A woman in a secure but unsatisfactory relationship who is hoping that one day her prince will come along and rescue her.

 Are you waiting for rescue? Is there something in your life that’s keeping you trapped in a tower? What can you do to change?

Are you someone who’s already found the courage to “cut your own hair” and climb out of the tower? Please share.

Stop, Look, Go

Yesterday I listened to an NPR interview with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk whose most recent book is entitled 99 Blessings. Steindl-Rast contends that happiness is born of gratitude and not vice versa, and he offers a method that we all can use to help us live more gratefully.

We all know people who seemingly have everything that money can buy and yet they are unhappy. We also know people who have misfortune, illness, and tragedy in their lives, but somehow they are happy. According to Steindl-Rast, that’s because they are grateful and are aware that every moment is a gift. He further believes that everyone has the ability to develop this same awareness.

Steindl-Rast says there is a very simple method that will help us live more gratefully. We must Stop, Look, and Go. He admits that stopping is hard for many people. Busy, we rush through life and therefore miss many opportunities because we don’t stop. We have to build more top signs in our lives.  STOP! Whatever life offers you in that moment, go with it and realize that it’s a gift, freely given.

While listening to this interview, I had the thought I’ve had many times, that there’s really nothing new under the sun. Anyone who’s familiar with positive psychology (or even pop psychology) knows that an attitude of gratitude is essential to happiness. And yet, there was something that touched me about this monk’s words.

We often say that opportunity only knocks once, but that’s not necessarily true since each moment is a new opportunity. If you miss the opportunity of this moment, there’s no reason to fret. Another moment is promised to us…and another and another. It’s  comforting to think that no matter how many opportunities we have missed, there will always be another one. Maybe you were meant to miss that first one. That job, that relationship, that phone call, and that interview were not the only moments and gifts you will have. Something better is on the horizon.

As an experiment, STOP right now, LOOK around you, and think of how grateful you are for this moment. Then GO forth with the realization that you will have millions of other moments filled with opportunity. After you do this, please share your thoughts.

Exercise and Happiness


You’d have to be living in a cave somewhere not to know that exercise is good for you, and yet for some reason, many Americans shrug it off. “Too busy,” they say. Or, “I don’t have anyone to exercise with me. If I had a workout partner, I’d go to the gym every day.” Yeah, right.

Could exercise even be linked to happiness? Maybe. Read the following from Gretchen Rubin’s first chapter in The Happiness Project.

“There’s a staggering amount of evidence to show that exercise is good for you. Among other benefits, people who exercise are healthier, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. Regular exercise boosts energy levels; although some people assume that working out is tiring, in fact, it boosts energy, especially in sedentary people—of whom there are plenty. A recent study showed that 25 percent of Americans don’t’ get any exercise at all. Just by exercising twenty minutes a day three days a week for six weeks, persistently tired people boosted their energy.” (Kindle edition, page 22 of 289, Loc 405 of 5193)

Despite knowing all of those benefits, though, it’s still hard to “just do it!” Why do you think that’s the case? In your opinion, why do people avoid spending twenty minutes a day three days a week doing some sort of physical activity? Do they not know of its benefits? Do they know but not believe? Know and not care?

Be Traci, Not Jayne


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently read The Happiness Project, a book that has the power to transform a person’s outlook and behavior. Ms. Rubin’s findings and the way she presents them are quite thought-provoking. Today I’m concentrating on the first of her 12 Commandments: Be Gretchen.

Although I didn’t think much about being an individual true to her own values, strengths, and interests in my earlier years, it has become increasingly important, not only in how I live my own life but also in how I encourage others to live theirs.  We’re all children of the universe, in a manner of speaking, and just like snowflakes, we’re all unique. Wouldn’t it be a dull, boring world if we looked, thought, and acted alike?

Accepting and BEING who and what and how we are has applications for many areas of life. Take occupation, for example. There are people who love being accountants, and they’re darned good at it. I, on the other hand, can’t even keep my checking account in order! The fact that it’s online now and can be checked 24/7 has made it easier.

My husband faithfully records his debits and credits in an Excel document and has even set one up for me.  When I recently almost ran into a problem with my account, he reminded me of the value of recording the data in Excel.

“If you’d just do it my way, you’d know exactly what was due and when,” he chided.

“That’s you, Hon. It’s not me,” I replied.

“I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“I know, I know. And hey, I’m going walking in a few minutes. Want to go?” I asked.

He answered me with an exasperated scowl, and I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“But walking isn’t something I enjoy,” he said.

“Exactly. Just like I don’t enjoy poring over numbers in boxes.”

He went back to the computer, and I went for a walk, content with my newfound confidence to “Be Jayne.”

Another area is dress and appearance. One of my daughters and I were chatting on the phone yesterday, and I mentioned that when I was in high school and the first couple of years of college, all females had to wear skirts or dresses. At some point, we were allowed to wear pants to class, and shortly thereafter jeans were allowed. I soon got into a denim craze and have never grown out of it. While some people might think it’s weird for a senior citizen to wear jeans, that doesn’t bother me. I’m living the commandment to “Be Jayne.”

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with students is seeing the individuality that they express. Whether sporting tattoos, facial hair, blue hair, glittery nails, or plaid shirts, all have the freedom to be themselves. Whether they are aware of it or not, their looks tell the world a message about just who they are.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with being you? Do you sometimes feel that you need to be or do or act the way others think you should be? Please share.

Let’s Get Happy


Getting course material lined up for the spring semester reminded me about the important topic of happiness. It’s something we will discuss in all three of my online classes this semester. In preparation for the term, I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, a book that has enriched my knowledge about this positive emotion.

According to Rubin, 50 percent of a person’s happiness is due to his or her temperament, and the other 50 percent is related to personal choices, effort, and environment.  We can all be happier; some people just choose not to. Like Rubin, I realized that nothing was going to change unless I made it happen. It’s yet another way of saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

There are dozens and dozens of suggestions in The Happiness Project, but today I’m zeroing in on a neat concept, emotional contagion. If you’re around people who are negative, pessimistic, or complaining, guess what happens. Right. You become more like them. Years ago, I came across a phrase that I’ve practiced ever since I saw it: sidestep negative energy. I don’t want to be infected by negativity and have consequently tried to surround myself with positive people. I want to be uplifted, not brought down.

Here’s the flip side to this emotional contagion concept. We all  have the power to affect other people’s moods. I think this is especially true for women, for it seems that they set the emotional tone of the home. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true that the dad, brother, husband can send out negative vibes too, of course, but when he does, often people just stay out of his way.

I’ve made the choice to act upbeat and happy in the belief that my mood will affect the people around me. Rubin says she began singing in the morning and that her children liked that. She also began acting silly with them and found that her children and husband “caught” her mood. I haven’t started singing yet, but I have started listening to more music and humming along. And I’m working on the silly part.

Regardless of inner feelings, I’m making a concerted effort to act happier today. I’m going to put the emotional contagion concept to work and smile more. What’s something you can do to affect your environment, the one inside of your head and the one you live in?

I Feel Upset When….


My human relations class has been short shifted lately, and yet that’s one class in which the application of psychology can be put to the test. Since conflict and its causes and resolutions are currently under discussion, I’m posting a few thoughts on how conflicts can be approached using I-messages. It’s a method that I’ve found to be quite useful IF and WHEN I remember to use it.

Sometimes we all get annoyed, upset, or angry with others. Whether at work or play, friction and conflict are certain to appear. However, there are many methods to use to get our points across without bullying or manipulating, and an I-Message is one such method. I-messages provide a way to report your feelings to the other person by simply stating the facts without criticizing, complaining, condemning, or judging.

Using I-messages will (or should) eliminate the tendency to blame or insult another person. When we send  “you” messages, we risk damaging a relationship since the other person is likely to feel defensive and resentful. “I feel hurt when you spend so much time at work because it seems that we never have much time together anymore,” will probably be better received than, “You make me so mad when you spend so much time at work and never enough time with me!”

An I-message has three main parts:

1. State your feelings. How do you feel about the behavior anyway? Upset? Angry? Manipulated? Hurt? Left out?

2. State the specific behavior that brings about your feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, or annoyance.

3. State why you feel the way you do when a person engages in the behavior.

I feel __________ when you __________  because __________.

Think of a conversation that occurred with another in which you could have communicated better if you had used an I-message. Fill in the blanks using words that possibly would have produced a different outcome and share it on the blog.

Is there a situation in your life right now that could benefit from using a few I-messages? If so, practice this technique. In fact, why don’t you practice it with us first and get some pointers before using it in “real life.”