Ask any number of people what happiness is for them, and you’ll get just as many different answers. The answer to the question of how to get there is often even more unclear to the respondents.
Happiness researcher and author Sabine Harre, who has been asking people in China and Germany for a decade what happiness is for them, has still not found a formula for it, even after more than a thousand interviews. Although, certain elements repeat and the definition of what happiness means to the individual(s) changes over time.
The Pursuit of happiness, along with life and liberty, is even listed in the U.S. Constitution as one of three explicitly mentioned examples of inalienable rights given to people from birth. The Founding Fathers of the American Union, however, could not guarantee that everyone would achieve happiness. They also did not give any guidance on this and kept a low profile.
And that was wise. For while for one person a hundred years ago the highest happiness on earth may have been on horseback, for others it is simply having a roof over their heads, sinking their bare feet into the sandy beach in Hawaii, or seeing their family again after being stationed abroad for several months.
But the pursuit of happiness obscures our view of the immediate. In the search for the forest, we don’t see the trees. Happiness is also one of those things that, in some cases, we don’t recognize when it happens to us. It is only in retrospect that we sometimes realize how very lucky we had been at that moment. Part of this happiness is also due to the fact that our brain fades out and forgets bad memories over time, and keeps and plays the nice ones for us. This is the only way to explain nostalgia for past times that seem simpler and more beautiful to us than they really were.
Maximizer versus Satisficer
But a scientific study by several happiness researchers shows us another path to happiness that we can commit and practice in today. And it has to do with decisions. More specifically, with two types of decision makers. On the one hand, there are the maximizers, who want to make the absolute best decision; on the other hand, there are the satisficers, who are satisfied even with a non-optimal decision. The authors of the study used a so-called Maximization Scale, on which they classified the test subjects on the basis of criteria and examined their behavior when making consumption decisions.
Maximizers tend to dig through information over and over again to make their decision better. The danger is that they never reach a decision because they are not satisfied. This can lead to analysis paralysis. And even if they have made a decision, they are never sure that there is not an even more optimal solution that they have overlooked. This wears on the nerves, the worry remains, and happiness does not materialize.
The satisficers, on the other hand, are aware that the one optimal solution does not exist, and even if it did, the path to it would take too long. Therefore, they set themselves criteria that must be met before they can make a decision. Or they set themselves a time limit when a decision has to be made. As soon as the decision is made, they move on and tackle the next challenge. And their thoughts move with them. There is no return, which leaves the conscience in a permanent state of gnawing doubt and thus happiness outside.
Maximizers doubted their decisions – especially in bad moments – and then asked themselves more if there was not a better option. They also tended to compare themselves with others, regret decisions, and blame themselves for them.
Decision-making tactics to happiness
The study authors recommend several tactics to help us become less the maximizer and much more the satisficer when making decisions.
One point is to delegate a decision. If you can’t decide on an Internet provider in your region, just ask a good friend. If they are satisfied with their provider, there’s a good chance that you will be, too.
Another point is simply to think practically. There is no such thing as the ideal job. Is the new workplace close to home? Do the colleagues seem nice? Is the salary right? Even if there is no company car or free lunch, the flexible working hours may be the deciding factor. No job is likely to offer all the criteria together, no matter how long I search, and I run the risk of becoming increasingly frustrated – the opposite of happy. But if, for example, 8 of 10 criteria are met, then make the decision.
A third point is the ability to transfer decisions to other domains. If I choose the brand of toothpaste in the supermarket relatively quickly, without thinking much, why don’t I apply this decision-making ability to the next washing machine purchase? Granted, washing machines are more expensive purchases than toothpaste, but if it takes me maybe half a minute to choose a toothpaste, I’ll allow myself an hour to choose a washing machine, not weeks.
Decisions have to be practiced. Nothing could be easier. Who doesn’t feel like they’re once again sitting in front of Netflix, Amazon Prime or dozens of TV channels and can’t decide which movie or series to watch? You spend more time browsing the offerings than actually enjoying the movie.
Here you can now set a limit. The decision must be made in 5 minutes. Or from the next 20 films you narrow down the selection to the 3 most interesting and then choose a film. In an emergency by a counting rhyme.
Does it work?
You bet. My editors often accuse me of getting too rambling in my writing and not knowing when to stop and keep my mouth shut. So I have a new criterion. At just under five thousand five hundred characters ends m