The Science of “Good Enough”

Let’s talk science.  Neuroscience, in fact.

Turns out that settling for a good enough decision instead of waiting to make a perfect decision makes you happier.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system.  Some neuroscientists study happiness.  Yes, there are scientists that study what makes us happy!  That’s a branch of science I can get behind.  Neuroscientists have found four things that make us happy – one of which is making decisions.

According to the science outlined in Dr. Alex Korb’s book, Upward Spiral, making a decision – even a bad one – lessens our anxiety and worry.  (Neuroscience, you had me at “lessens worry!)  Searching for a perfect decision adds pressure and stress and physiologically floods our brains with chemicals that make us feel bad.  On the other hand, making a decision calms your brain and makes you feel happier.

I think Costco knows this.  If you’ve ever been to Costco, you know that the giant warehouse store houses thousands of different products, and it can all seem extremely intimidating and overwhelming.  Yet, when it comes down to actually purchasing a product, there are seldom more than two choices available to you.  You can choose between two types of juicing machines, for example.  You know they have both been vetted by the powers that be at Costco, so you can be confident that they are high quality choices, and you can see the price savings clearly displayed.  Making the decision between the two is still your responsibility, but it’s a whole lot easier than searching for a juicer on Amazon and finding one among hundreds.  That (among many other reasons) is why I love Costco.  I feel good shopping there.  Maybe the juicer I ended up buying wasn’t the absolute perfect juicer I could have found in the entire universe, but it’s a pretty darn good juicer.

We humans feel bad when things are out of our control.  We feel good when we are empowered.  I’ve always been fascinated with sociology’s study of cognitive dissonance, which explores our attitudes and behaviors specifically relating to discomfort (dissonance) we feel when there are conflicting emotions, attitudes and behaviors in a given situation.  (A “given situation,” of course, meaning almost every single thing we do in our entire lives.)   Life is complicated, and there are always multiple attitudes and emotions to consider.  It’s not a black and white world.  That leads to dissonance, which doesn’t feel good. We try to minimize that feeling as much as possible.

Research in cognitive dissonance with regard to decision making has shown that people tend to reinforce their decisions (once they actually make them) to reduce the discomfort they feel about missing out on the possible alternatives.  In other words, when you choose between a red shirt and a blue shirt at a store, you feel confused and uncomfortable.  When you bring the red shirt home, you excitedly show it off to your family member s and articulate all sorts of benefits the red shirt has.  You may still wonder about that blue one, but you reinforce your decision so you feel good about it.

The moral of the story?  Pick a shirt!  Make sure it’s one you like, of course, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  It will never be perfect.  Pick the one that is good enough.  You’ll be happier.


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