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Indecision and Lack of Commitment Breed Unhappiness
People who have trouble making the everyday decisions in their lives cause themselves a lot of extra stress and grief. A study from Florida State University suggests that some of their problem comes from an inability to commit. Even after making a choice, some people are never truly committed to it.
There's a little bit of perfectionist in all of us. Some people take it to an extreme when making choices. They simply can't decide which cell phone has all the right features and can spend half an hour agonizing over whether to order the chicken or the fish.
People who tend to obsess over decisions – big or small – and then fret about their choices afterwards are sometimes called maximizers, while those who make decisions and simply live with them are sometimes called satisficers. While most people fall somewhere in the middle, confirmed maximizers want to be certain that they've made the right choice. And they're rarely sure that they have done so.
Whether these differences are a central and stable part of personality or simply a frame of mind isn't clear. What is clear is that indecisive people cause themselves a lot of grief that those who are more satisfied with their decisions don't.
The study looked at the reactions of Florida State undergraduates after they had purchased a poster. After rating all the available posters, each person chose and purchased one. They then re-rated all the posters. The satisficers in the group tended to raise the rating of the poster they had purchased and lower their ratings of the other posters, showing that they were committed to their choice and satisfied with it. Maximizers, on the other hand, were less likely to change their impression of the posters after they selected one.
The interpretation is that the maximizers still weren't committed to their choice, even after they made it. Their new purchase didn't bring them happiness, it brought them doubt and caused them to second-guess themselves.
The study also found that maximizers place a high premium on the option of being able to change their mind, even after making a decision. They want to avoid commitment.
And as bad as it feels to constantly wonder if all the possessions in your life are up to snuff, doing so about all the people in your life feels even worse.
What this all suggests is that maximizers would be happier if they brought a little more perspective into their life and learned to accept minor decisions as final after they've been made.
Choosing the right house or the right mate are major decisions well worth serious deliberation. Choosing between the red and blue backpack shouldn't be.
Sometimes it's best to settle for good enough and move on.
An article on the study appears in Personality and Individual Differences.
January 19, 2012