Maximize Your Happiness

Do you maximize or satisfice? My husband says that no matter what we do, I’m never satisfied. Actually, I’m very content with the lovely life we’ve created. At the same time, I’m always looking for ways to make it even better. Perhaps I need to let him know that I’m happy instead of always suggesting something new we could do to improve the quality of our life—like our latest project to build a utility room extension.

I’ve written about reaching that illusive “enough.” I don’t actually need anything more in life. Since we’ve lived happily in this house without a separate utility room all these years, I can’t really say we need one. It is merely a desire.

I have more than enough of just about everything. Now I’m reducing the number of things we own. We’ve certainly hit peak stuff. The bummer in all this is that I enjoy shopping and am a consummate bargain hunter. In order to keep shopping without damaging our finances or the planet, I restrict myself to buying second hand. But I can see why my husband thinks I’m never satisfied. However, should I never buy another new thing unless something breaks? While a noble idea, that’s not realistic. 

What my husband has observed is that I maximize. He is the opposite and satisfices.

According to research from Richard Wiseman, researcher and author of 59 Seconds, extreme maximizers check all available options constantly to make sure they have picked the best one. Meanwhile, extreme satisficers only look until they find the thing that satisfies their needs and then stop and don’t second guess.

For example, years ago we found a great family home. I love it and am very happy living here. Yet I feel compelled to scan the new real-estate on the market to see if something better comes along. Not much has, but I’ve suggested moving a few times when something does come up that looks even better. I find it hard to resist a fixer-upper with potential because I love bringing out the potential in things and people. It’s one of the reasons why I like coaching so much. I can see the potential and enjoy helping people maximize their own lives. 

On the positive side, maximizers tend to achieve more. But they take longer to find what they want. Also, they tend to be less happy due to a propensity to dwell on how things could have been.

I still regret not being able to buy an apartment in NYC that was only $10,000. I’m still kicking my spendthrift, younger self that racked up $10,000 in debt and couldn’t come up with the money for that fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime deal. Eventually I got out of debt. As a result, I saved enough to buy a fixer-upper house that turned into my first successful real-estate purchase! I got there in the end and used the regret and missed opportunity as motivation to get my financial life in order.

If you maximize, you may spend too much time searching for the perfect thing. You may need to put a time limit on researching. I have rules in place so I don’t get carried away. For example, I can only look at real-estate after I’ve written a blog or done something productive. And I have realized that I need to automate investing for the same reason. I will continually second guess my choices and drive myself crazy with indecision.

What about dealing with those feelings of regret of missed opportunities? More often than not, we regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we did do, even if they failed. However, if you regret not doing something, is there a way you could still do it now or in the future?

I missed one opportunity to buy a property but found another property a few years later. One client in her late 40s regretted that she never graduated from college and thought she had missed out. I pointed out that she would still regret not having a degree in four years or she could enroll now and put that regret to rest in four years. She enrolled!

If you’ve said or done something that you regret, do everything you can to make amends. Then fix broken relationships and find forgiveness. It may take time and a concerted effort on your part. However, if you do nothing, then you’ll always have regret. Plus, you’ll also have the new regret that you did nothing to make it better! No point in doubling up on regrets, is there? 

So, instead of dwelling on a mistake or missed opportunity or day dreaming about what could have been, consider the butterfly effect. If you had actually made that choice, what in your life now would be missing or different? If I had bought that NYC apartment, I might be wealthier now. But would I have moved out of the city and met my husband? I might be living in NYC now, missing the beautiful life by the sea I currently enjoy in England.

It is easy to think about the positive things that you could have had. But we don’t often think about the negatives that decision or choice might have led to or the positives you have now that you’d never have if you had taken a different path. Thinking about the positives I already have helps me put my crazy brain to rest. Also, it reminds me that yes, that was a missed chance, but there is always another opportunity around the corner.

By the way, if you are wondering whether you maximize or satisfice, we use a very sophisticated computerized assessment that can confirm it. It’s part of our Career Change Kit. Alternatively, you could just ask your partner.

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