Decisions, decisions

Does choice make us happy? In many ways, yes. But so does the lack of choice.

Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, gave the unsuspecting people in his experiments two different kinds of choices. Some of them were offered a choice that they could undo. The others were given a choice that they had to live with.

The ones with the do-over option continued to ponder the upside and downside of their decision. But the people who had to suck it up seemed to be better off.

Courtesy of Hockadilly via Flickr Creative Commons

“They tended to concentrate on the good features and ignore the bad,” Gilbert said. “As such, they were more satisfied when they made irrevocable than revocable decisions.”

If that rubs you the wrong way, you’re not alone. Gilbert found that just about everybody really, really wanted to have the chance to change their minds.

Gilbert took his findings to heart.

“Up until this point I had always believed that love causes marriage,” he wrote. “But these experiments suggested to me that marriage could also cause love.

If you take data seriously you act on it, so when these results came in I went home and proposed to the woman I was living with. She said yes, and it turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend.”

So I ask you again, does choice make you happy?

(By the way, this reminds me of something that hit me when I returned to the U.S. after a year in Eastern Europe. That will wait for my next installment, two weeks from now. I could have written about it now, but I thought it would be better to wait. Hope that was the right thing to do.)

~Jon

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3 thoughts on “Decisions, decisions

  1. Choice does make people happy. People want a choice, just in this case they didn’t want the chance to second guess the choice they made. But they still made a choice. The problem comes in with having too many choices – like an unlimited choice to redo.

  2. I am happy because I have choices! It is hard to imagine a world where decisions are made for you but I know that there are cultures where that is the norm. So give me choices and let me make my own way- some I will regret and some I won’t – at least I have that opportunity.

  3. Marriage is an excellent example. Of course, the statistics tell us that even that choice is ‘undoable’. I was having a hard time coming up with decisions that you truly have to live with forever, can’t change your mind. Then I thought of one of the biggest ones – the choice to have children. I know that for me personally, and probably for most people, when that responsibility gets really challenging, I do in fact try to focus on the innumerable positives of the choice I made. I guess that means that I agree with the good doctor’s findings.

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