Did you know that people who strive to always choose the best are happy – in a different way?

New study by the ISS-researcher Michail Kokkoris

People vary in how much they want to make the best possible choice in various everyday situations. In psychology, people who strive to make the best choice and do not settle for second best are called “maximizers”, whereas people who make a choice as soon as they find an option that is acceptable and meets some basic criteria are called “satisficers”. A question that arises is: Are those who always seek the best and refuse to lower their standards happier in life? Or is that perhaps a recipe for misery, since they have to live with the doubt that they could have done better by searching more? For long, it has been assumed that maximizers are less happy than satisficers because the thought that there might be something better out there never lets maximizers enjoy life. 

Now, adding to emerging research challenging this assumption, a new study by ISS researcher Michail Kokkoris proposes that in order to investigate whether maximizers are indeed unhappy we need to distinguish between two types of happiness. On the one hand, happiness might mean to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, experiencing much more positive than negative emotions might be a way to be happy. This type of happiness is called hedonic happiness. On the other hand, pursuing pleasure might not be the only way to be happy. Alternatively, happiness might mean to realize one’s potential and pursue self-fulfillment. For example, a person might be happy by engaging in activities that are personally meaningful and self-expressive, such as improving one’s skills, acquiring new knowledge, or volunteering. Such activities may not be pleasurable on their own right but imbue people’s lives with meaning and motivate them to use their full potential. This type of happiness is called eudaimonic happiness.

So far, research on maximizing and happiness has neglected eudaimonic happiness. However, a more complete answer to the question whether maximizers are indeed less happy than satisficers would require assessing both types of happiness – not only hedonic, but also eudaimonic. Results of two empirical studies showed that maximizers scored higher on eudaimonic happiness than satisficers. This research challenges the long-held assumption that maximizers are unhappy. Although maximizers may not be happier than satisficers in terms of experiencing more pleasure and positive emotions, they definitely lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives. In sum, striving to optimize one’s choices in life may provide people with opportunities to flourish. This might not be necessarily associated with more pleasure – but it is clearly associated with meaning and self-fulfillment, which are also important aspects of human happiness.