Life on a Whim

choices decision-making happiness spontaneity

Fewer Choices, More Happiness

Since I know something of the psychology of happiness and choice, I have some theories on why this may be true. The first is that failure to consider other options leads to a total acceptance of the decision being made. Studies on choice and satisfaction have shown that people tend to be less certain of their decisions when they have a plethora of choices, and in many cases more choices sometimes leads to no decision being made at all. While we normally assume more choices leads to more opportunities for happiness, this is not the case. In actuality, fewer choices means we are less likely to second guess ourselves, thus leading to better satisfaction with the choice we did make.

Trust Your Instincts

My other theory has to do with intuition. I am generally a believer that most people know very well what they do and don't want. If left to follow your instincts, you'll probably get yourself to a happy place. The problem comes when we try to second guess ourselves, doing what we should do rather than what we want to do. If you make a decision on a whim, it's pretty hard to weight obligations against desires, since we tend to think with our emotions first and our reason second.

I still maintain that it is important to do what you ought in most circumstances, and hopefully what you want and what you ought are somewhat aligned; there is an important place for morality in all of this. Nevertheless, in some kinds of decisions, when it is less a matter of our obligations and more a matter of what we think will make us happy, going with your first instinct will probably serve you best.

Here's a shallow example. My favorite sweater, a black hoodie from Gap, was bought at a time when I probably shouldn't have been spending money on clothes, and when I didn't really need a new sweater. Normally one to carefully consider any expenditure, I purchased it as part of a fun shopping trip (never a good idea for the financially savvy). Nevertheless, it is now my key piece of warming comfort clothing, worn all the time and earning compliments from all my friends and family. Probably the best buying decision I've ever made. It caught my eye, I liked it, so I bought it. What an elegantly simple decision-making process. Simple is usually better.

I'm contemplating the wisdom of applying this theory of decision-making to larger life choices. I have written on the importance of being conscious of your choices, and the awareness that most decisions are not life-or-death. Since it seems that I'm just as likely to be happy with a decision made on a whim as I am with one made after careful consideration, it might be a good idea to spare myself all the anxiety associated with careful decisions and just rely on first instinct, saving time and worry.

How do you prefer to make decisions? Looking back, has your preferred method led to more or less satisfaction than other methods? Post thoughts to comments.