Is maximizing minimizing your happiness?
I know your first question likely is, “What the heck is maximizing!?”. While you may not have known what it was called, I have no doubt you’ve experienced maximizing. Either as a maximizer yourself or by being related to–or friends with–one.
Maximizing is a form of perfection.
As a quick refresher, a perfectionist is someone who is unable to enjoy the present moment because they are so focused on the “next thing”. The next achievement, prize, goal, milestone, etc., which they think will be the key to their happiness.
Have you ever said, “Once I _______________, THEN I’ll be happy.”
That is a form of perfectionism.
Brené Brown, in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”, says that:
“Perfectionism is not about health achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is, at its core about trying to earn acceptance and approval.“
Perfectionism can paralyze us because we are so afraid of failing or showing someone else that we aren’t perfect.
But let’s get back to maximizing.
Is MAXIMIZING minimizing your happiness?
If you are more of a “listener” then go ahead and click play below to listen to the podcast version of this post. If you prefer to read the CliffsNotes version, keep on reading!
What is maximizing?
Maximizing is something that happens when we are always looking for something better. It is when someone is always searching for the perfect _______ in their quest for happiness, but in reality that quest is actually preventing them from experiencing happiness.
How about a real-world example of maximizing?
This is actually a story that was shared by my trainer in the Positive Psychology course I took this past summer. I have changed some of the details, but the general gist is the same.
Imagine you were looking to purchase a new carry-on suitcase.
You knew you wanted one that fit into the overhead compartment. You wanted it to have 4 wheels on the bottom versus just two, a telescopic handle, you wanted a couple of pockets on the outside of the bag, and you really wanted it to be purple.
So you go to the mall and the first store you go to you find two suitcases in your price range that meet all of your criteria, but since you are already there, you might as well go to the luggage store around the corner to see what they have. They have three suitcases that meet your requirements and are also in your price range. So now you’ve found 5 carry-on suitcases that would be perfect for you.
You get home and your husband/friend/family member asks if you found a suitcase. You tell them you saw some good options, but you are going to check Amazon first to see if maybe there is a better one online.
That night you go down the rabbit hole of Internet shopping and now have 5 suitcases at 4 different online shops all in carts, but you can’t decide on one so you still don’t order one.
The next thing you know your trip is tomorrow and you still haven’t purchased a new suitcase, and you really did need one. It’s too late to order one online, so you decide to go back to the mall and buy one of the five you originally saw.
However, now they are all sold out. Since you still need a suitcase, you end up buying one that meets most of your requirements, but it’s pink instead of purple. It still functions just fine, but it’s not what you had wanted and now you are kicking yourself because if you had just bought one of the purple ones you saw that first day this wouldn’t have happened!
Friends, that is maximizing.
Maximizers focus on squeezing the maximum possible benefit out of every choice and opportunity.
Which means … they can’t commit to choices and decisions because ‘what if something better comes along?’
Maximizing versus begin specific
It’s very different to want something specific and choose not to settle until you find what you want, versus finding something that meets all of your requirements, but choosing not to purchase it because ‘what if there is a more perfect version out there?’
A good example is when we adopted Rose and Clara. We had some specific criteria in mind when it came to adopting two kitties and we waited until we found the kittens that met all those criteria before we adopted. Would we have adored any pair of kittens? Quite possibly, but we knew we wanted kittens under 5 months old, two females who were littermates, and I wanted one of the kittens to be grey like my sweet Ollie had been. I didn’t want the new kitten to look exactly like Ollie did, I wanted her markings to be different.
Then one day, there they were on the SPCA website. The absolute perfect pair for us. That was us being specific. We immediately went down as soon as they opened and adopted them.
Had we been maximizing, we would have continued to search for a pair of kittens that were maybe even more perfect for us and there is a good chance we would have missed out on these two goofballs.
You might be a maximizer if…
Still not sure if you have maximizer tendencies?
You might be a maximizer if … you have multiple items hanging in your closet with the tags still on them.
You might be a maximizer if … you always have returns to make because you found something “better”.
You might be a maximizer if … you have 3 or 4 internet shopping carts filled with variations of the same thing and haven’t bought any because you think there might still be a more perfect version to be found.
The opposite of maximizing
The opposite of maximizing is satisficing. Satisficers feel content with their choice as long as they pass a basic threshold of acceptability.
I am as flawed an individual as anyone else, but this is one area where I seem to be doing ok because I know I am a satisficer.
Last year I was looking for a new carry-on suitcase. I wanted one that had 4 wheels, that fit into the overhead compartment, and had a telescopic handle. I also wanted it to be under $40, as I don’t travel that much, and I find with carry-on luggage you can get away with cheaper luggage because it’s not being abused as much as checked luggage. One day I was strolling through Walmart and saw a grey suitcase that met my expectations and was on sale for $35. It’s not beautiful, but it’s a nice grey, so I bought it–and I love it. And when I get to travel again I’ll be delighted to bring it out.
In that example, the first item I found that met the criteria, I purchased, and that was the end of the story.
There is always going to be some middle ground where someone who isn’t maximizing still wants to see what’s available at a number of stores before choosing, and that’s fine. As long as they choose. It’s the maximizers inability to choose that is the problem.
How maximizing impacts happiness
The reason it’s important to make a decision and stick with it is that our brain naturally justifies the choices we make in life and finds positive sentiment revolving around that choice, but only when it views that decision as permanent and one that cannot be reversed.
Accepting things the way that they are without the desire to improve them supports the practice of savouring and enjoying what you have.
Obviously, it’s ok to want to improve your life or make upgrades. That is a natural part of life and can be an important one, but if you are ALWAYS trying to find something better and cannot be truly happy for what you already have, that’s when you are stealing your own happiness.
When you buy something and keep the tags on it for weeks and months “just in case” you find something better, your brain perceives that as a choice that can still be changed. It doesn’t form that same sentimental attachment to it that it does when it views something as more permanent.
How do I overcome maximizing?
As with anything, you can overcome maximizing, but it takes effort. For most of us, our maximizing comes in the form of our shopping habits, but fortunately, that is one of the easiest ways we can practice breaking our maximizing.
The next time you are going shopping for something specific, make a list of all of your requirements. Features, colour (if applicable), size, price range, etc. Then go shopping and when you find one that fits ALL of your requirements–buy it.
Take the item home and immediately cut the tags off and throw out the packaging. If it’s something that you need to test (such as electronics) to make sure it works, obviously keep the receipt and any required packaging in case you do need to return/exchange it, but otherwise cut off those tags.
If it’s something you can write your name on (like a suitcase) get out your permanent marker and write your name inside, wash it if it’s clothing, whatever you can do to really tell your brain, “this is mine now.”
Next, put the item away. Allow your brain time to process that you now have _______, and it can start to justify the choice you made and create that positive sentiment about the choice.
A few days or a week later, get the item out and I bet you’ll find that you are excited and delighted with your purchase! You got just what you wanted with all the features you wanted in the price range you wanted – YOU ARE A SHOPPING NINJA!!!
If those steps scare the heck out of you, start small. You don’t need to start by choosing a $500 item, you can begin with new Christmas placements or a wreath. Something seasonal that you’ll only have to look at for a month or two. As you learn to trust your judgement, you will be more comfortable practicing becoming a “satisficer”.
Remember, it’s a journey and it’s ok to slip up and fall back into your maximizing ways, but the more you work towards becoming a satificer, the more happiness you’ll be opening yourself up to receiving.