08/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Too Many Choices: How To Be Satisfied With Your Decisions

In America, people are faced with more and more decisions every day, whether it's picking one of 31 ice cream flavors or deciding whether and when to get married. That sounds like a great thing. But as research from a Swarthmore College psychology professor has shown, too many choices can make us confused, unhappy--even paralyzed with indecision.

That's particularly true when it comes to the workplace, says Barry Schwartz, an author of six books about human behavior. Students are graduating with a multitude of skills and interests, but often find themselves overwhelmed when it comes to choosing an ultimate career goal.

In a study, Schwartz observed decision-making among college students during their senior year. Based on answers to questions regarding their job-hunting strategies and career decisions, he divided the students into two groups: "maximizers" who consider every possible option, and "satisficers" who look until they find an option that is good enough.

You might expect that the students who'd undertaken the most exhaustive search would be the most satisfied with their final decision. But it turns out that's not true. Schwartz found that while maximizers ended up with better paying jobs than satisficers on average, they weren't as happy with their decision.

Why do these people feel less satisfied?

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