Equipped With Happiness


1 Comment

Be Happier By Making Decisions Creatively

creative decisions cartoonSometimes we over-complicate our decisions by keeping them too simple. We view choices in terms of two polarized options, and often find ourselves dissatisfied with both. Then we spend hours, or longer, trying to determine which list of evils we might somehow be able to tolerate.

But decisions don’t necessarily have to be that way. More often than not, we really do have more than two options. If we expand our decisions by adding choices “c” and “d” to our original “a” and “b,” we may find an option that’s far better than tolerable.

The tricky part is identifying those alternate choices. Most of the time, the best options will not be the most obvious. Finding them requires creativity, and an understanding of where to look.

Don’t Look for “c” where you found “a” and “b.”

Usually, when we are faced with a seemingly black-and-white decision, our two choices aren’t options we have invented independently.  We often only see two options because someone else has presented the decision to us in those terms. For instance, if we are discussing budgeting with our partner, they might say, “We can afford either a new dishwasher or a new couch.” If this happens, we are likely to focus entirely on picking between those two options. In the process, we completely miss other ideas, such as cutting down on entertainment costs, getting a loan, or selling our old possessions so we could purchase both items.

The appearance of limited options may not always result from an explicit choice someone presents to us, however. Sometimes we also find ourselves trapped by our assumptions about “normal” or “common” ways to go about life. For example, we may feel we have to pick between starting a family and building a career because we frequently hear stories about people sacrificing one for the other. In reality, the “lonely, career-driven woman,” and the “family man whose kids cost him a job” are just stereotypes. There are many middle grounds between those two extremes.

Finding the route that will make us happiest requires deviating from our preconceived ideas about the options open to us. It also requires facing the challenge of developing new alternatives.

New options can be created from the best elements of our original choices.

Sometimes the simplest way to find an ideal option is to combine the things we like about our other choices. For example, consider the decision of whether to go out for dinner or cook a meal at home. We might want the freedom to stay in our current un-showered, pajama-wearing state (a point in favor of cooking at home), but also want the convenience of not having to prepare our own food. If we combine those options, we might come up with the additional ideas of ordering delivery, begging a friend to bring us food, or scrounging in our freezer for something quick and microwaveable.

New options can also be found by completely abandoning our original ideas.

When we find ourselves stuck with two options that seem to have no redeeming features, sometimes it is best to look for new options in a totally different direction. Take the decision of whether to spend date night at the movies or a sporting event, for example. If none of the movies appeal to us, but we know our significant other gets bored watching sports (and we dragged them to a game last weekend), it may seem like we are destined for an unsatisfying date. But wait, maybe we could change “date night” to “date day” and visit the beach, or Disneyland, or the zoo, or the park.

Once we learn not to limit ourselves to the obvious options sitting right in front of us, we open ourselves up to a whole world of possibilities. And out of all those possibilities, we stand a pretty good chance of finding at least one to get excited about.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Be Happier By Consulting The Impossible

impossiblecartoonWhen making decisions, people naturally tend to limit themselves to options they deem “possible.” This seems like a logical approach, since focusing on impractical ideas uses up time and energy that could be spent on formulating a feasible plan. But sometimes, considering impossible, best-case-scenarios can lead to decisions that are actually more satisfying.

Occasionally, this satisfaction comes from discovering that the “impossible” is actually doable.

In order to avoid wasting effort, we often limit ourselves to ideas we are certain will work. This means we quickly label riskier options as impossible, never giving them a second thought. But some of these uncertain paths may be more possible than we think, and pursuing them can lead us to happiness.

Identifying those kinds of situations requires changing the way we initially categorize our ideas. Instead of trying to find the most practical options first, we should try to find the most appealing ones. Once we find an idea we like, we can begin to evaluate the steps necessary to make it a reality. Examining these steps in detail, after we are already fond of the idea in question, can make something that seemed impossible into a completely viable option. And that option could be just what we needed.

Even if our favorite idea does turn out to be impractical, contemplating the idea is still beneficial.

Decisions can be a little overwhelming at times. Thinking of a perfect outcome, no matter how impossible it is, can be a good starting point in the decision-making process. A brief fantasy about the best-case-scenario can help end the feeling of mental paralysis that often seems to accompany difficult decisions.

Not only that, sometimes working backwards from an impossible idea leads to an alternative that is still pretty great. It may be that a few simple sacrifices can be made to bring the idea into the realm of possibilities. If not, the original idea can still provide a direction for future ideas. By identifying factors that made the original idea appealing, new options that offer similar benefits can be developed. This process may illuminate opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to us.

Considering impossible ideas also helps us understand ourselves better. When we think in terms of “possible,” we depend on a predetermined evaluation of our capabilities. This leaves little room for growth. But, when we think in terms of “ideal”, we gain insight about what truly makes us happy. This allows us to make efforts to grow in ways that maximize our happiness and to make decisions that bring us greater satisfaction.

It is important to remember that impossible is not the same thing as useless, and uncertain is not the same thing as impossible. If we consider the “impossible” when making decisions, we increase our likelihood of finding opportunities to be happy.