One of my favorite Schwartzisms is this: If you ever aren't sure if you attended the very best party or bought the very best computer, just settle for "good enough." People who do this are called "satisficers," and they're consistently happier, he's found, than are "maximizers," people who feel that they must choose the very best possible option. Maximizers earn more, Schwartz has found, but they're also less satisfied with their jobs. In fact, they're more likely to be clinically depressed in general.
The reason this happens, as Schwartz explained in a paper with his Swarthmore colleague Andrew Ward, is that as life circumstances improve, expectations rise. People begin comparing their experiences to peers who are doing better, or to past experiences they've personally had that were better:
As people have contact with items of high quality, they begin to suffer from “the curse of discernment.” The lower quality items that used to be perfectly acceptable are no longer good enough. The hedonic zero point keeps rising, and expectations and aspirations rise with it. As a result, the rising quality of experience is met with rising expectations, and people are just running in place. As long as expectations keep pace with realizations, people may live better, but they won’t feel better about how they live.
Olga Khazan in The Atlantic on Barry Schwartz and his recommendations for how to avoid the depression that comes from “the curse of discernment.” Stewart is the author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, one of the most cited consumer psychology books of recent memory.
The internet has intensified this curse, no one can make a purchase decision without reading a bunch of reviews online, or Googling “what is the best [X]” and trying to sift through a bunch of spammy websites to find some authoritative-sounding article. After all, the internet has democratized information and put it at our fingertips, isn't it our own fault if we don't own the best SLR or printer or kitchen blender, or if we don't go to the best ramen house in Tokyo on our one visit there?
I will try to take this to heart as maximization can be so contextual as to be meaningless. However, having had so much Korean BBQ in Los Angeles' Koreatown, I'm afraid my hedonic zero point for that cuisine has risen so far from my college days that just about every Korean BBQ restaurant in San Francisco I once loved now seems like a monastic compromise.