Considering the human benefits of consideration
Forty-five years ago, when I was in business school, the field of operations research (OR) was in its infancy.
We took a required course in OR, which dealt primarily with improving manufacturing efficiency. Since then OR has become a vast discipline, applying statistical models not only for business management, but also for data mining and machine learning. Increasingly, OR is concerned with human decision-making.
So this month, our deep dive into the academic literature is in the field of OR.
It seems obvious that people who make proactive choices have better life satisfaction (aka happiness). But in an article in the European Journal of Operational Research, Johannes Siebert and others searched the literature and noted that this association had not been empirically tested. So, they set out to do just that.
Their 2020 paper, “Effects of proactive decision making on life satisfaction,” addresses a question we all face daily, in large questions and small. For example:
- Am I doing more for the environment by driving to the supermarket, or by having Fresh Direct come to me?
- Will I be better off aging in place, or moving to a community where I can easily get care as my needs change?
Embedded in these questions is How’s this going to work out for me? How am I going to feel about the result?
In more than 20,000 words of academ-ese, charts, appendices andreferences, the authors developed a few key ideas, and tested them in three studies involving 1300 qualified participants. To reduce to the relevant conclusions:
- Proactive decision-making fosters greater belief in a person’s abilities, and increases satisfaction with decisions, and with life in general.
- Individuals can improve their life satisfaction by developinga more effective decision-making approach.
- Generating alternatives is important not only for outcomes, but also for effective decision making. In other words, it’s not enough to make a list of alternatives and choose the “best” one; developing alternatives itself requires skill and commitment.
So what’s the takeaway?
Small daily decisions would become overwhelming if we had to generate alternatives for every choice.
But for the medium-sized (where should we go on vacation?) and large decisions (should we move? should we retire? if I give up driving, how will I get around?) a proactive approach, with well-developed alternatives, will produce better decisions, and likely, more contentment.
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