Olga Danylenk/ShutterstockRemember the fable about the grasshopper who lived it up all summer, then regretted it when winter set in? But the ant, who’d worked his butt off through the heady days of summer, was well-prepared when times got hard. Now science finds which approach is truly the right one.
In a new study, published in the Journal of Individual Differences, researchers from the University of Connecticut investigated whether being like the conscientious ant was better than living like the carefree grasshopper. Grad student Susan Zhu and her team set up a questionnaire on Amazon MTurk, an online work marketplace. Questions covered attitudes towards decision-making (for example, whether people were prepared to settle for second best), and also about financial matters such as their earnings and savings.
The team categorized the participants into two groups: maximizers and satisficers (a combination of ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’).
Zhu explained the difference: “A maximizer is someone who has really high decision standards, and who is willing to hold out to find the decision that fits their high standards. So they’re not willing to settle. The satisficer is the other end of the spectrum. When they go through their search options, they are willing to be OK with an option that fulfills some type of minimal requirement.”
Maximizers accept discomfort now, to achieve a better outcome in the future. Satisficers will settle for a lesser result to avoid agonizing over a decision. But Zhu was keen to stress that one is not better than the other—just different. Here are some proven ways to help you make better decisions.
The team also posed questions about a lottery win, and whether participants would rather take $100 USD today or hold out for a thousand in a year’s time. They discovered that if the initial amount was low, most people would wait, but if there was little difference in the amounts, many people opted for an immediate payout.
“A lot of people just want what they can get right now instead of waiting for the better payout in the future,” said Zhu.
Traditionally, maximizing has been viewed as the best way, with those who ‘live for the day’ being seen as irresponsible. And the team did discover that maximizers showed some positive traits, such as being forward-thinking, conscientious, optimistic, and ultimately more satisfied with life.
But of course, it’s not really that simple. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, and even if you’re naturally a satisficer, you may realize that maximizing has some benefits. As Zhu says, “You can push yourself to engage in those maximizing behaviors and you might see a better payout at the end.”
Maximizing can help us when we want to save for our kids’ future or maintain an exercise regime, but an occasional “grasshopper” day will help us keep a healthy balance and enjoy our present life too.