john-gibbons-oSMYeEq6YPo-unsplashPhoto by John Gibbons on Unsplash

A few nights ago I prepared some gluten free potstickers for dinner. I had been craving them for days and was looking forward to savoring their chewy, crunchy goodness. While they were frying in the pan I checked the fridge for tamari…and things went south. We were all out. I could have cried. I ended up using coconut aminos instead, but it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t fully enjoy my potstickers without the proper dipping sauce. I realize this sounds ridiculous. I am quite aware that not having gluten free soy sauce when one wants it is a first world problem. I’m not proud of my reaction. And I wish I could say that it was the first time I’ve become disgruntled due to a minor inconvenience. I wisely opted not to share my potsticker disillusionment with my husband. There is, after all, only so much (food) drama with which a spouse can reasonably be expected to empathize.

Back in college, when Harlan was a psychology minor, he learned about ‘maximizers’ and ‘satisficers’ (‘satisfice’ being a blend of the words ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’). Maximizers try to squeeze the most out of every experience, while satisficers are more apt to go with the flow. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that I’m the maximizer in our marriage.

There are plenty of things I appreciate about being a maximizer. I am desperately in love with life and all of its potential. I am acutely aware of every moment. I get more excited about things than most other people I know, and I bring them along for the ride. When I taste a truly amazing dish I can hardly contain myself. Gazing at a stunning sunset or a mountain vista I am overcome with awe. Sometimes I feel so much joy that it spills beyond my borders. I am a hard worker. I try to make things as beautiful and exceptional as possible. When I accomplish something challenging I am lit up inside for hours. And you would be hard pressed to find someone more enthusiastic about her talent for picking the perfect size storage containers for leftovers.

But trying to maximize life has its downsides. It can lead to some rather compulsive behaviors. I am driven (pun intended) to find the best parking spot, even when it means I spend more time driving around than necessary. I have even been known to move my car if I discover a closer spot. I experience some chagrin when I do this, but that doesn’t stop me. I carry chapstick with me at all times so that my lips are optimally moisturized. On the rare occasion that I forget or misplace it I panic just a little. Same goes for hand cream. If it’s not in my purse, my bedside table, a kitchen drawer and my car something is seriously amiss. I cannot go to bed without first flossing, tongue scraping, brushing my teeth, washing my face, using a hydrating mist, moisturizing, installing my mouth guard…and of course, applying the requisite chapstick and hand cream. I also insist on making sure all of our animals (even the indoor/outdoor cats) are in the house each night, sometimes going to the front door numerous times in an attempt to lure them back inside before I head to bed. And I never fail to bid my kids goodnight and kiss each of them, even though they are teenagers and would likely prefer that I just ignore them. It occurs to me that this last example may be less of a compulsion than a “mom” thing.

I am a horrible decision maker when there are more than two options on the table. I find too much choice paralyzing (How can I know which is the best one?) and often second guess my decisions as soon as I’ve made them. Harlan can’t relate. He makes decisions with ease and then doesn’t give them another thought. I find that rather astonishing. It goes without saying that prioritizing is also not a strength of mine since everything in my life seems to carry equal weight and is therefore equally important to optimize. And I’m harder on myself than is necessary. I almost always feel I could do better.

Things would be easier If I was a satisficer. Setbacks, like the potsticker situation, would roll off my back. I would have fewer roller coaster emotions. I would compare myself less to others and be more content. So I’ve been working on embracing more of the “just fine” in life. When dining out, once I spy a menu item that accommodates my dietary restrictions and looks reasonably tasty, I no longer scrutinize all of the other options before placing my order. If I don’t finish a book before my book club is scheduled to meet I attend anyway. And just this morning, after parking near my doctor’s office, I noticed a more perfect spot but opted not to move my car. Perhaps if I make enough satisficing choices I will someday find that I have become laid-back and serene.

But I will continue to allow myself to maximize the things that make life a little more vibrant. Because, in my experience, it is our superlative experiences that make us feel exuberantly, joyfully alive.

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