Monday, January 12, 2009

Changing my mind about changing my mind

I just read an article in Newsweek about when scientists change their mind. Tucked away at the end of the article, the columnist throws in a little interesting finding about people's happiness and their ability to change their minds.

"Let's end on an up note. Like every other psychology researcher, Harvard's Daniel Gilbert believed that people are happier when they can change their minds. But in 2002 he and a colleague discovered that people are generally happier about irrevocable decisions: once you are locked in to a decision, you tend to focus on its positive aspects and ignore the negative ones. But if you are allowed to change your mind, you ruminate on both the positive and negative aspects of the choice, which makes you less happy. Inspired by his findings, Gilbert proposed to his girlfriend. Since the "till death" vow makes marriage an (almost)irrevocable decision, the result is that "I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend."

The article has little to do with this study, but it really made me think. Could this be why our culture is increasingly unhappy? We are inundated with choices. We can't seem to commit to anything. Vows scare us. We like to leave our options open, in case something better comes along.

Maybe the ability to change our minds and not fully commit to anything actually creates more uncertainty which leads to more stress, more anxiety and more unhappiness.

But maybe not.