Best isn’t always better

Last Updated : 15 December 2020, 07:32 IST
Last Updated : 15 December 2020, 07:32 IST

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Soon after graduation, you receive a job offer that seems ‘decent’. The job meshes with your core strengths, the pay is reasonable and the company’s culture aligns with your personal values. You would be more than willing to take up the job if the company didn’t insist on a three-year commitment. For deep down, you know you can do better with your stellar academic record, excellent recommendation letters and robust interviewing skills.

Should you just take up this job as it meets most of your expectations or should you wait for the dream offer that you hanker for?

As market conditions are on the uptick, should you just stick it out till you get the premium job offer? If you sign a three-year contract, aren’t you compromising your entire career trajectory?

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz draws a distinction between maximisers and satisficers. Those who are willing to settle only for the best fall into the maximisers’ camp whereas satisficers are content with an option that seems good enough.

While people may think that maximisers are more likely to be happy with their choices as they spend hours, days or even weeks agonising over their decisions, research finds that satisficers experience more well-being than their pernickety peers.

While maximisers desire only the “absolute best,” satisficers, argues Schwartz, are satisfied by the “merely excellent.”

They set the bar at levels acceptable to them, but don’t insist on having only the very best. This attitude of settling for what’s good enough has ramifications for any choice you might make — from a pair of jeans to a job offer to a life partner. On the work front, the maximiser mindset, argues Schwartz, compels people to switch jobs sooner than later. Even after landing a new job, maximisers continue to seek brighter pastures and rosier prospects. As a result, they stay constantly on the lookout, never feeling settled.

Schwartz concedes that a willingness to change jobs can land you plum opportunities. However, it comes with a cost. If you are perennially exploring, then your antennae have to be alert to new possibilities as you weigh the pros and cons of various choices on a continual basis.

And, this “always on” mentality can exact a toll on your ability to relax and enjoy your present situation. Once satisficers make a decision, they do not worry about missing out on a better option and are less prone to FOMO (fear of missing out).

Obsession over details

When it comes to their own work, maximisers are likely to obsess over every detail. Though they are likely to produce outstanding work, they may overshoot deadlines in their quest for perfection and alienate colleagues.

Satisficers, on the other hand, may turn in a project when they feel that it has met their pre-determined benchmarks.

Further, maximising is linked with lower levels of well-being. Maximisers are less likely to relish favourable experiences and also take longer to rebound from setbacks. They are also more likely to be depressed and have a dour outlook on life.

Though maximisers may be more successful from an objective point of view, their subjective well-being is lower.

Schwartz concedes that maximising can be domain-specific. A person may not be too choosy when buying a smartphone, but labours over which college to join. Another person may obsess over which optional classes to take, but may not be too finicky regarding restaurants.

However, on an average, maximisers and satisficers differ in the “range and number of decisions” they brood over.

If you are often dissatisfied and yearn for the ‘best’ in many domains, perhaps, you can try to “apply the satisficing strategy” more consciously and frequently to see if it enhances your overall well-being.

Published 15 December 2020, 02:49 IST

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