A friend recently asked my opinion about whether she and her husband should buy a new house. She explained that she loved the house because it has many intriguing features—for example, it’s on a river and her boys could go tubing down the river in the summer. The downside is that living in that home would make her commute substantially longer. She asked my opinion based on research on decision-making.
Both Our Hearts and Our Heads Can Lead Us Astray
I told her I wasn’t sure. On the one hand, research shows that people’s satisfaction at work is most closely related to their daily interactions with their direct supervisor. This shows that the seemingly mundane things (like your supervisor’s communication style or my friend’s commute) are crucial and should be given significant weight.
On the other hand, I thought about research on intuition and decision making which shows that people tend to be happiest when going with their gut reactions rather than what they come up with when they rationally go through the process. Over thinking can create a less favorable outcome. In fact, we tend to be most satisfied when we don’t need to explain (to ourselves or others) why we selected what we did.
Relevancy and Good Decisions
I favored this second approach but I wasn’t completely sure so I did a little more research. I found a study of 900 women conducted by Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Alan Krueger, the majority of whom said that their commute was the worst part of their day.
Hmmm, maybe my friend should question the daily impact more carefully. But her gut told her the house was a good fit for her family.
Weighing the Factors
It felt right to my friend to have an active lifestyle on the river. However, would her family take advantage of the river on a regular basis? It would need to be enough to offset the tough commute. They’d only make use of the river for about half the year. Many people choose a larger house over a location closer to their work and regret it because the benefit of, for example, a larger master bedroom, does not outweigh the cost of a long commute to work.
So how do we balance out the different variables to make good decisions?
1) Get in touch with your intuition—what feels right.
2) Ask yourself if what feels right will be relevant much of the time.
3) Don’t think anymore. If you over-think step 2 you can talk yourself into anything (and out of the best decision)!