I can't get no satisfaction. But satisficing will do.


I’m not a very decisive person. I overthink everything. It’s stressful and unproductive. Maybe it would make sense if I had a position of high risk. But that’s not my life. My setting is the toothpaste aisle in the grocery store; my conflict is what to cook for the week; my nemesis is picking a restaurant for date night. The paradox is that I’m also a big planner. Lists give my days structure and my life meaning. The problem is when I’m trying to pick the best toothpaste or plan the most cost-effective meal plan or figure out exactly which food I’m craving most. All the options and variables collect in my head until I nearly explode. And then how often everything ends in disappointment…! The toothpaste doesn’t make my teeth sparkle white, meal plan gets thrown off, the restaurant doesn’t live up to expectations.

Can you imagine what buying a house this past summer looked like? Picture: too many open tabs on my browser to count.

My husband, God bless him, is an engineer. He made an excel spread sheet which showed demonstratively our ideal price point, listed our preferences in order of priority, and chose a house. Meanwhile my head was in that state of near-explosion, weighing mortgage length against down payments, house size against value, yards over pools… until I was discontented with everything we saw and decided to sit and wait for the perfect dream house (at the right price, of course) to show up on the market.

The catch was, I was pregnant and due in a few weeks. I definitely wanted to be moved in before baby because unpacking with a nursing infant sounded impossible. A decision simply had to be made; our approach had to change. So we went out on a Sunday, saw three houses, ruled out two, and made an offer on the third. Our reasoning? It was “good enough.”

“Good enough” is not the description most people expect when you excitedly tell them about closing on a house. Especially since this was our first home purchase, we were told not to settle, to look for the house of our dreams. But that only ended in frustration! So we went with something that we knew checked the boxes and that we hoped we’d be able to shape into something we loved. I think we were aware of the possibility of moving in and being disappointed, but before we knew it we were too far along in the process to back out - and baby certainly wasn’t going to wait for us to get our act together!

Something magical happened in buying a house with such moderate expectations. We are totally happy in our new house; “good enough” became “perfect”. But the magic wasn’t in the home, it was in our attitude and perspective. Or it’s in the one, because of the other. Instead of being disappointed, we were surprised and delighted by the perks and took the downsides in stride and with an intention to improve them. It made the entire process so smooth and stress-free.

I went on a walk the other day and just happened upon this podcast. The host, Shankar Vedantam, is investigating the idea of regret. Naturally, regret follows a lot of decisions. A lot of this kind of regret or disappointment results simply from an inflated decision making process. In order to minimize these regrets, according to Amy Summerville, a social psychologist at Miami University of Ohio, one can apply a method of satisficing - essentially taking the concept of “absolute best” out of the process and instead focusing on your own relative needs and standards. She uses this great example of her wedding dress shopping. You can listen to the whole podcast or read the transcript, but basically she tried on a dozen or so dresses, found one that she both really liked and was in her price range, and halted the search there. According to research, at this point of the process she would be most satisfied, after which only would come increasing frustration and discontent.

You know when you hear a word that perfectly captures an idea and it’s like sun breaking through fog? That’s how this concept of satisficing was for me. It just made so. much. sense.

I was so excited about this concept that I told everyone I talked to about it. It was just so timely! We had literally just lived the good promise of satisficing. We chose good enough and got exactly what we wanted. There was simply no imbalance between expectation and reality. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that “good enough” became “perfect for us”, and that’s really all that matters.