Frame Your Decisions for Satisfaction
During this very long winter, many of us have realized that we were dissatisfied with how things used to be. That seems to be at least part of what the Great Resignation is all about. As we — maybe, finally — emerge into spring, it feels as though we have a chance to start over, to decide anew what we should keep, what we should transform, and what we should throw away altogether. It’s an unprecedented collective chance to reexamine what makes us happy and to redefine what satisfaction means in our own lives.
Many people are writing about the search for satisfaction in this unique moment. For example, here on Medium, Nir Eyal, Darius Foroux, and Rosie Spinks all have excellent recent pieces on dealing with dissatisfaction. The cover story of this month’s Atlantic, by Arthur C. Brooks, is called “How to Want Less” and explores “the secret to satisfaction.” Generally, people seem to agree that the most important step toward a satisfied, happy life is to get very clear on what you value most, and then prioritize whatever that is.
In the midst of my own reflections on satisfaction, I came across a podcast exploring the concept of “satisficing.” A portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice” coined by Nobel prize-winning economist Herbert A. Simon, satisficing is usually explained as choosing what’s “good enough,” in contrast with maximizing, or choosing what’s perfect. I wrote in Forge earlier this year about the link between satisficing and happiness, and my own experience as a maximizer-turned-satisficer.
There’s another, perhaps more illuminating way to understand the difference between maximizing and satisficing. Whereas maximizing means choosing the option that would be the absolute best for an average person in generic circumstances, satisficing means taking into account your own particular circumstances and choosing the option that is best for you in that moment. To borrow an analogy from mathematics, maximizing is like finding the global maximum of a function, or its highest overall value. Satisficing, by contrast, is like finding a local maximum, a bump in the function that is relatively higher in value than its surrounding points. “Local” here is inherently personal: Satisficing is about making the best…