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Satisfice Yourself? The Art of Settling
By Heath Shive
I was at a wedding and the couple had written their own vows. The couple said all the clichés, like “I’m marrying my best friend” (blech) and the (ugh) worst of the worst, “You are my soulmate.”
Soulmate? If there’s any word in the English language that American romance has to apologize for…it is soulmate.
When I talk to long-term couples, I sometimes ask how they met each other. Overwhelmingly, they met in either high school, college, or at work. Predictable.
Yet when I hear the word soulmate, I hear someone implying that their romantic happiness was the work of Cosmic Forces – like Fate or the Universe had a hand in it.
Most couples have predictable backstories. Predictable wedding traditions. They get married at predictable ages.
And now I realize this could be a good thing!
It might just be, just maybe, the wisest choice of all.
Don’t believe me?
To the science!
Bounded Rationality, or “Nobody’s Perfect”
The word “settling” has a bad reputation. To settle – to choose the less than ideal option – is to imply a kind of defeat.
But in all actuality, settling for “less than the best” – whether a purchase, property, occupation, or marriage mate – may be a very wise choice.
The famous economist Herbert Simon said so. And he won a Nobel Prize in Economics for it.
A Nobel Prize…for “settling”?
Yes! For most of the 20th century, social science (including economics) assumed that people acted rationally with their decisions. Economists thought of humanity collectively as a rational thinker, like a Homo economicus if you will.
But…we’re not rational. Actually we’re more irrational. That’s not to say that we’re crazy (it just looks that way).
But on the average, humans do not rely on rationality and logic to make many of our biggest decisions. We rely instead on emotion, conformity, tradition, prestige, peer pressure, or even neurosis.
Even when we choose to be rational, humans have limits.
Herbert Simon called this “bounded rationality” - the idea that when individuals make decisions, their rationality is limited by the how easily the problem can be measured, the limits of their ability to understand, the time available, etc.
Simply put, you will never have the time to examine all possible options, to examine all the data, and sometimes, you don’t even know what the root problem might be.
So – as we say in America – you have “to wing it.” You do the best with what you have, whether you’re prepared or not.
Simon once made an analogy. Suppose you had to sew something, but you needed a needle that was at least 4 inches long and must have a needle’s eye of at least 3 millimeters. Then you’re shown a pile of 100,000 needles ranging in size from 1 inch to 6 inches long, and needle’s eyes from 1 millimeter to 5 millimeters wide.
Will you examine all 100,000 needles? You would probably “settle” for the first needle that meets the standard.
Satisficing: The Art of Settling
Herbert Simon elaborated on his theory. Basically, he said that there are two kinds of choosers – the maximizers and the satisficers.
Maximizers are people who will not settle for anything but the best. They put enormous amounts of research, effort, and patience into the decision before they make their move.
Then there are the satisficers – mixing “satisfaction” with “sufficing”. These people explore their options until “an acceptability threshold is met.” In other words, they settle.
There is nothing wrong with either style!
It all depends on what you really want in this life.
But maximizers may never find that ideal solution. They may never have enough time, resource, or options.
They may never find “the one” or their “soulmate.”
That’s the price they pay.
Satisficers can enjoy something sooner. Get the result faster. Conserve their time and resource. But they will also have to compromise more. Tolerate more imperfection. Maybe even suffer more consequence.
Or maybe get a divorce.
That’s the price they pay.
It reminds me of something that I heard on an episode of the TV show Community (Season 6, Ep. 12).
It’s you against the world and you will not win. But until then, you make your own moves.
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Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.