by Niall Doherty

Recently I watched a TED Talk about infidelity. To quote the speaker:

“We used to divorce because we were unhappy. Today we divorce because we could be happier.”

This applies to more than marriage.

It seems happiness isn’t good enough anymore. No, we have to be the happiest that we can possibly imagine ourselves to be. (Or at least happier than all our pseudo-friends on Facebook.)

Of course, thinking that way just makes us unhappy.

I’m becoming more conscious of such thoughts in my own head. Earlier this month, on the hunt for an apartment here in Amsterdam, I quickly found a good deal on a nice place but was hesitant to commit to it.

I caught myself thinking, “What if something better comes along?”

Not a bad question to ask yourself, but a terrible one to dwell on. After all, there’s always something better out there. There’s always a nicer apartment that can be had for a better price.

But keep chasing and you’ll never be satisfied.

We get caught up in this same pursuit when making plans with other people. Tim Kreider has a name for it:

Plan shopping: deferring committing to any one plan for an evening until you know what all your options are, and then picking the one that’s likely to be the most fun, or advance your career, or have the most girls at it. In other words, treating people like menu options, or products in a catalog.

I recognized myself far too much in that description when I heard it a few months back. I’ve since been making a conscious effort to quit shopping around for the best possible option, instead allowing myself to commit to options that are merely good.

The trick is to catch yourself asking, “What if something better comes along?”

Drop that and replace it with, “Will this make me happy?”

There’s no simple answer to that first question, and so you find yourself tormented and dissatisfied. But the second question demands a binary response: yes or no.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying you should settle easily. It’s healthy to weigh your options and strive for bigger and better things. And in some areas (like business), it’s smart to pass on the good opportunities so you’re free to tackle the great when they come along.

So of course, be selective. But not so much that you sacrifice a certain happiness for a potential happier.