Apr 14 2014
Years ago, Fluffy and I were given a book called The Paradox of Choice. The premise of the book was that the more choices we get, the greater our potential for being unhappy.
The author divided people into two groups — Maximizers and Satisficers. Maximizers are people who have to have everything just right. Satisficers are people who are okay with having things that are just good enough. According to the author, Maximizers are never happy, because the moment they get the best car or the best computer, a brand new one comes out that is just slightly better.
We have many friends who are Maximizers, and we have seen how true this is. The best sound system in the world is only good for a few months. The best computer system in the world isn’t good for that long. The largest TV screen is only good until a larger one appears. And it drives Maximizers crazy to know there’s something better than what they have, and they don’t have it.
Fortunately for us, Fluffy and I are Satisficers. It isn’t something we chose. It isn’t something we attained by virtue, because we certainly aren’t virtuous. I think it’s something that’s genetic, like eye color. It’s just the way you’re wired.
We have dear friends who are Maximizers, who do a whole lot of home remodeling projects and who have helped us do a lot of home remodeling in our own home. At one point they volunteered to do the herculean task of painting our two-story living room and foyer. This required replacing lighting fixtures, doing the ceiling and trim painting, and basically spending a couple of weeks climbing up on scaffolding.
I spent days choosing a color for the room and finally chose a dark parchment color called jute. I was happy. Life was good. We bought a zillion gallons of the stuff. Our friends got on the scaffolding and, like Michelangelo, we started painting.
They painted with the speed of gazelles — if gazelles could hold paintbrushes, that is.
Ten minutes later, when they had painted a whole lot of wall, I looked at what they had painted. “That’s a very dark jute,” I said. They looked at the can. They said, “The can says the color is pashmina. Let’s go back to the store and change it.” They got off their backs and started to climb off the scaffolding.
But I, like Fluffy, am a Satisficer. Satisficers realize that the same room can look equally beautiful in a million different colors. Perhaps I had not chosen pashmina, but it would work. In fact, the dark taupe that was now on the wall was the color I had wanted to paint the room until other friends had talked me out of it. This was a happy accident I could live with. Best of all, it wasn’t my fault.
“Keep painting,” I said. Fluffy agreed. Our friends protested, but I’m sure they were glad they didn’t have to go back to the paint store and redo the work. I’m happy to say that our artwork and furniture look just as good with pashmina as they would have looked with jute. We bought more furniture to match the pashmina. The room looks great. We are happy. Life is good.
That’s the joy of being a Satisficer. When plans go awry, all you have to do is throw away the plans and go in whatever direction life is taking you. We Satisficers don’t have to have the Best Dishwasher on the Market. As long as we have a good one that works, we’re happy. And if the good one that works breaks, we’re still happy — as long as we have a friend who will wash the dishes with us.
Maximizers don’t have the luxury we do. The more choices they see in front of them, the scarier life gets. And that could be one reason we’re seeing so many young people with what I call Peter Pan Syndrome. They’re getting older, but they refuse to grow up.
When I was a kid, girls had three choices when they left high school. They could get a job, they could go to college, or they could get married. (For Mormon girls who were still unmarried by the age of 21, they could serve as missionaries as a fourth option.)
Boys could get a job, go to college, or join the military. If they were Mormon boys, they went on a mission when they reached the age of 18. That was about the extent of it.
And those were enough choices for both young Satisficers and Maximizers to handle.
Today, the choices are endless. Not only can girls get jobs, go to college, or get married, but now the Mormon girls can consider missionary service as young as age 19, or they can choose to go when they are older.
Boys and girls are starting to think about “gap years” of travel after high school, adopting a custom that has long been followed by young Brits and other Europeans. They pick up their backpacks and their maps; buy an open-ended ticket across the Atlantic and wander — much to the consternation of the parents they leave at home.
The concept of travel is a heady one, but how do they do it? Do they do it alone or with a friend? Which friend? What if they find a girlfriend along the way and want to ditch the friend? And where do they go? Which European countries? Or maybe they’ll go to Asia instead. How much of a barrier would the language be? Which languages could they get by without speaking?
Instead of going to school, many of them are thinking about helping out in third-world countries. But where do they help out? There are so many third-world countries. What if they choose the wrong one? Should they go to Thailand? Ghana? Somewhere in Central America? What about Haiti? That’s a place closer to home. Which place needs them the most?
And once they choose a country, what should they be doing? Should they be digging wells? Should they be rebuilding places that have been destroyed by storm or by war? Should they be helping orphans? Should they be helping plant gardens? There are just so many needs.
Maybe they’ll just go to school and study abroad. But even then, which country will they choose? There are so many choices. How do you choose the right one? Will a semester in Jerusalem be too dangerous? Will a semester in France be too frivolous? Will a semester in London be too much like home? What if they choose Salzburg and their future husband/wife is in Barcelona?
The same is true of dating. The world is full of eligible candidates, and college campuses are rampant with them. Jane is beautiful, but Eliza has a great personality and Betsy would be a terrific mother to your children. And if you pick any one of them, you could meet a better one a year from now — or not. Should you choose one of them, or should you wait? How do you choose?
Every door a Maximizer opens means he is shutting other doors all around the universe. The thought of it is paralyzing. There are too many choices, and sometimes when there are too many choices, the easiest thing to do is to make no choice at all.
If your child finishes college and then knocks on your door, expecting to reclaim his old bedroom and his old place in the family, he may be a Maximizer living in a world of too many choices. But all is not lost.
In the recent April general conference, Elder Ronald L. Hallstrom gave hope to Maximizers everywhere when he said, “Once any of us conclude, ‘That’s just the way I am,’ we give up our ability to change.”
If you’re harboring a Maximizer in your basement, or if you’re raising a Maximizer who is yet to graduate from high school, there is hope. Give him love and guidance. Narrow his choices in subtle ways. Give him tough love when necessary.
Remember, roughly half the population is made up of Maximizers. Maximizers can be happy and successful people. In fact, you may be one yourself.
Life has always been about choices, and our happiness depends in some degree on the choices we make. Although our array of choices sometimes seems unlimited, those who approach these decisions with thoughtfulness will muddle through somehow and eventually find their destiny.
Perhaps those of us who have already been down some of these roads can serve as guides for those still trying to navigate the big decisions of life. Stranger things have happened.