[FOUNTAIN]Pick your pond well

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[FOUNTAIN]Pick your pond well

“Shall I kill myself? Or shall I have a cup of coffee?” asked French writer Albert Camus. He meant that everything in life is a series of choices. From the moment you wake up in the morning, the process of making choices begins. Shall I have rice or bread? Should I take a bus to work or ride the subway? Thousands of choices await us everyday. After making a choice, we always feel regret or satisfaction alternatively. So what should we do to make the best possible choices?
Let’s ask Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College in the United States and author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.” He recommends settling for something “good enough” instead of the “best.” In order to choose the best, you have to scrutinize all the available alternatives. However, that is realistically impossible in the modern world full of options. The “maximizer” who seeks and accepts only the best is more likely to be unhappy while searching forever for the best. According to Mr. Schwartz, the “satisficer,” who thinks there might be something better but settles for something that is good enough despite that possibility, is better off than the “maximizer.”
The “nearness effect” helps us understand better. Who is happier ― an Olympic silver medalist or a bronze medalist? The second place winner ought to be more satisfied than the person who came in third place. However, the runner up often looks more disappointed than the athlete who came behind him on the podium. In the runner up’s perception, he could have been the champion. However, the bronze medalist feels that he could, by a close call, have gone home empty handed.
The saying about a “big fish in a small pond” is also a very useful standard in making choices. You have two options: You can make $50,000 a year while others make only $25,000. Or you can make $100,000 while the rest make $200,000. More people opt for the first option. People tend to prefer making less money but being treated better in a small company than making good money but being nobody at a big firm.
The 600,000 students who took the College Scholastic Ability Test this year begin applying to colleges tomorrow. What choice will be best for them? Why don’t they consider being a “satisficer,” not a “maximizer,” a bronze medalist, not a silver medalist, and a big fish in a small pond, instead of a small fish in a big pond before making their choices? Mr. Schwartz said that the shortcut to happiness was to find the right pond and stay there, and his wisdom is very tempting indeed.


by You Sang-chul

The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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