I Can Relate

The joys and challenges of relating with others.

How To Be Happier With Your Decisions

3 ways to gain more satisfaction from your choices

Remember the last time you went to a white elephant gift exchange? You know, one of those parties where everyone brings a wildly tacky gift, maybe a re-gift or something lying around the house? When it's your turn, you either unwrap one of the gifts or "steal" a present that someone has already opened. Then another party guest "steals" your gift, allowing you to find something better (unless of course you grew attached to your gift, and now durn Aunt Jenny has it).

Do you like that game? Do you like being able to keep your options open, knowing that you can exchange your present and maybe get something better? Or would you rather just get a gift, whatever it is, and know it's yours for sure?

It turns out that being a trade-up kind of person or a good-enough kind of person makes a big difference when it comes to satisfaction with your choices.

See All Stories In

The Perfect Family

There's a fantasy we all carry in our heads.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Trade-up people, called "maximizers," are those who "never settle for second best" [1]. When faced with a choice they work hard to imagine every other conceivable possibility. Good-enough folks, in contrast, are satisfied with what they have, as long as it meets some minimum standards.

The problem for trade-up folks is that they continue to investigate options, even after a decision is made [2]. They do things like:

• Seek advice ("Do you think I picked the right school for Jimmy?")
• Make social comparisons ("Are the Jones' happier with their new car than we are with ours?")
Fantasize ("I wonder what that job in Vermont would have been like...")

This can be troublesome. One of the benefits of commitment is that you stop reviewing alternatives and assure yourself that you've made the best choice. When you feel good about your choice, you get to be happy. But if you are a trade-upper who continues to weigh options after you've made a decision, then you don't ever get the satisfaction of commitment.

And here, of course, is the irony. Trade-uppers want to be happy. They want to discover the "right" option to bring them joy. Yet this very desire-to make the perfect choice-ultimately keeps them from being satisfied with any choice.

For those of you who fall into the trade-upper trap, here are some ideas to get increased satisfaction from your decisions. Come on, you deserve it!

Trust yourself and your choice. Research shows that you actually make measurably better choices than other people. Think about it: You have looked at all the details. You have considered all the options. You have done all the research. So trust that once you make a decision, it was a good one.

Ignore alternatives. Once you've bought a car, stop reading car reviews. Once you've purchased a house, stop going to open houses. And once you're engaged, stop looking up your ex on Facebook!

Communicate your commitment. Communication confirms beliefs. If you describe your commitment to others, it will encourage you to feel it. Tell people how great your new job is, go ahead and introduce her as "my girlfriend," and repeat as often as possible, "For greater satisfaction, I can commit!"

Can you relate? Does this describe you, or someone you know?  Do you have other tips? Would love to hear your comments!

The great thing about commitment is we stop comparing alternatives. We're free to enjoy what we have, and focus on what's next.


Heidi Reeder, Ph.D. is the author of the newly released COMMIT TO WIN (Hudson Street Press/Penguin), available at Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.

She can be found on TwitterFacebook, and at www.heidireeder.com


[1] Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1178-1197.
[2] Sparks, E.A., Ehrlinger, J., Eibach, R.P. (2012). Failing to commit: Maximizers avoid commitment in a way that contributes to reduced satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 72-77.



Heidi Reeder, Ph.D., is an associate professor of communication at Boise State University.


Subscribe to I Can Relate

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.