WHY “GOOD ENOUGH” WILL ACTUALLY MAKE YOU HAPPIER

good-enough

Last week I had a one-on-one teacher-parent meeting with my 10-year-old daughter Emily. During that meeting, I heard about how engaged a student my daughter was and how socially tuned she was with her fellow classmates. There was one problem though, her teacher told me. Yes, Emily was an excellent student but she did need to be careful about one thing. Apparently, Emily needed to learn to spend less time on her classwork. Yes, you heard me correctly, LESS time on her work. Basically, my daughter needed to learn to say stop when her work was “good enough”, or, as they say in Norwegian “godt nok” (pronounced GOTT NOK).

In Norway, you will hear this expression “godt nok” quite a lot. It reflects a unique personality trait of the typical Scandinavian; namely, the ability to not only be satisfied with what they have but also to feel good about it. It is part of what makes the average Scandinavian so laid-back and seemingly carefree. In the same category as “godt nok” are other laid-back and carefree expressions such as “det ordner seg” (it will sort itself out), and “det går nok bra” (we’ll figure it out), as well as ”vi blir nok enig” (we’ll figure it out somehow).

I remember when I first heard these expressions I reacted rather negatively. They all sounded a bit sloppy, a bit passive, even lazy. More than careFREE, they sounded more careLESS to me. And yet, over the years, I have learned to understand that there is great value in thinking like this. Norwegians (and Scandinavians in general) do seem to be very good at not getting flustered about small, relatively unimportant things in life. Norwegians, especially, have an amazing ability to be happy and grateful about being good enough, which ultimately translates into a lower level of stress and a greater sense of well-being.

A couple of interesting studies conducted in 2002 and 2007 seem to support this claim. These studies focussed on two types of people: SATISFICERS, people who are satisfied with decisions and make do with what they have – I call them the “Godtnoks” – and MAXIMIZERS, people who try to get the absolute best out of everything and ultimately struggle to make do with what they have – I call them the “Never Godtnoks”.

When making decisions such as buying a car or booking a holiday, Satisficers will create a set of simple criteria and then, once the criteria are satisfied, make their decision to buy. They create a few simple options, and then they go for one of them.

Maximizers, on the other hand, will create their criteria and then spend lots more time trying to make absolutely sure that they have made the best possible choice and explored as many options as possible. By researching more, and generating more options, Maximizers believe they will find the ultimate best offer, or the perfect purchase. And they may well achieve that goal too.

However, when researchers studied how happy these two types of people were with their choices, Satisficers and Maximizers showed two very different results. Maximizers reported much LOWER levels of satisfaction and well-being about their decisions, often suffering from something known as “buyers remorse”, which is wondering if you really did make the best decision. Maximizers also spent much more time comparing their buying decisions to their peers (neighbours, colleagues, family), something we all know is doomed to a vicious circle of dissatisfaction and despair – there will always be someone richer than you, younger than you, more beautiful than you out there, right?

Meanwhile, the Satisficers were much more content with their decision, spending much less time worrying about their decisions, and learning to be happy with them: in other words, “godt nok”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that being “godt nok” is OK in all walks of life. Not even a Norwegian pilot would be particularly popular for informing his or her passengers as they are about to land that “det ordner seg”. Just as no Norwegian brain surgeon would sigh the words “det går nok bra” as they are about make the first incision in your skull!  However, when the issue at hand is not life-threatening, Norwegians are very good at simply acknowledging that it is “godt nok”.

So, whether my daughter Emily gets 95% or 87% in her math test will make pretty much no difference to her overall sense of well-being and happiness in life, something Norwegians seem to know a lot about according to The Better Life Index results for last year.

So, unless you are a pilot or a brain surgeon, I encourage you to start embracing “godt nok” a little more in your lives.

 

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