A long time ago, I was introduced to the phrase, “The good is the enemy of the best,” and I thought it was brilliant. I was opposed, as many of us are, to “settling”, to the idea that anything but the very best was something to be striven for. Research, it turns out, has other ideas.

Striving for the best may get us a better job, or a better house. But it turns out, it often makes us unhappier.  Dr. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, found that people who get the best are often less happy than those who stopped at good, because they never stop wondering whether there was something better they should have held out for. And Dr. Coco Krumme, a mathematician out of MIT and author of Optimal Illusions, explores the idea that optimization (that oh-so-present corporate buzzword that so many of us have been subjected to) is counter-productive. A self-proclaimed “recovering optimizer”, she found that people spend so much time trying to optimize small things—and everything-- that they miss out on what is actually important. Optimizing, she argues, can destroy communities, and even lives, but none of these things is measured by those who advocate for the practice.

This idea that we deserve the best and that the best is out there if we only work hard enough, wait long enough, or exert enough discernment turns out to be a monkey on our backs. We lose the good in the pursuit of the best, and more importantly, says Dr. Schwartz, we lose precious time. The time that we save when we stop searching, accept what is good, and enjoy what we have is only one such benefit. He argues that we can only optimize things that can be measured on a particular scale, and the things that we care about are not as easy to quantify.

“So you do damage outside your frame that’s invisible to you, all while optimizing inside of your frame,” he states while discussing Dr. Krumme’s work. “It’s actually a deception,” he adds.

He also brings forward Dr. Herb Simon’s term, “satisficing,” an amalgam of the words “satisfaction” and “suffice”, which means “to be enough.” Satisficing is looking for the good enough, while maximizing is looking for the best. Dr. Simon stated about 50 years ago that maximizing is not actually possible for us to do because there are now too many choices for us to process them all, leaving us unsatisfied. He makes the observation that in today’s world, this problem has multiplied exponentially because the internet and other technology allows us to be aware of a myriad of options. This, he claims, can make us miserable.

I was intrigued by this research and these two minds, one who studied the problems of optimization and one who studied the problems of too much choice. Dr. Krumme chooses to live in a rural environment where her life is simple, and Dr. Schwartz recommends that we limit our choices in order to be happier.

I find that both of these ideas have been true in my life. At times when I have had too many choices, I agonized over which way to go, and I can find no peace until I commit to a narrower path. It frees up my energy to stop ruminating and move in a certain direction, and that has always served me well. In addition, I try to regularly practice acceptance of the things I truly cannot change. As it turns out, knowing about all of the world’s misery every moment of the day is not good for you. I can remain well-informed without steeping myself in a 24-hour news cycles.

A good friend of mine has a t-shirt that reads, “IMPERFECTIONIST.” I think that’ll be my holiday gift to myself.

Dr Rosalyn Dischiavo

Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo EdD, MA, CSES, is a sexologist, professor, former family therapist, and a professional sexuality educator. She is the Founder & Director of Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment, and the author of “The Deep Yes, the Lost Art of True Receiving.” Dr. Dischiavo is also currently President of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) as well as past Professional Education Steering Committee Chair on the Board of AASECT. She is a Certified Sexuality Educator and a Certified Sexuality Educator Supervisor.

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