Is leaving your options open the path to happiness?


No. Once the door slams shut on an opportunity we tend to fool ourselves into thinking we made the right choice, even if we didn’t.

By leaving options open our mind keeps weighing the possibilities over and over, leading to diminshed happiness:

People generally prefer to have the opportunity to revise their decisions. Surprisingly however, research has shown that keeping one’s options open yields lower satisfaction with the decision outcome (Gilbert & Ebert, 2002). Two studies aimed to gain more insight into the detrimental consequences of decision reversibility and the cognitive processes underlying decision reversibility. Building upon literature on goal fulfillment we hypothesized and found in a first experiment that as long as decisions are still open to change, accessibility of decision-related constructs is increased compared to neutral constructs. A second experiment demonstrated that decision reversibility undermines working memory capacity. Moreover participants experienced higher regret after having made a reversible decision, an effect that was mediated by decreased working memory capacity. The study set implies that reversible decisions yield lower working memory capacity because people continue to think about the, still relevant, choice options. In the end this might increase dissatisfaction with the decision and regret.

Source: “Keeping one’s options open: The detrimental consequences of decision reversibility” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 47, Issue 4, July 2011, Pages 800-805

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