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I carry a backpack with me everywhere. I practically never use a purse, just my backpack.

Recently, the zipper on my backpack broke, so I bought a new one (see photo). It got me thinking about some lessons that I’ve learned about happiness, habits — and myself.

Lesson 1: Why did I find it strangely satisfying that the zipper broke? Because I’m a finisher.

Some people love finishing, and some people love opening—both literally and figuratively. @gretchenrubin 
(Click to Tweet!)

Finishers love the feeling of bringing a project to completion, and they’re determined to use the last drop in the shampoo bottle; openers thrill to the excitement of launching a new project, and find pleasure in opening a fresh tube of toothpaste.

When something breaks, like a zipper, that’s a clear sign that a thing is finished — and as a finisher, I find that very gratifying.

Lesson 2: Why didn’t I feel bad about going to just one store to choose a backpack? Because I’m a satisficer.

Satisficers make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

Maximizers, by contrast, want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.

I live in New York City, with a million stores, and to buy my backpack, I went straight back to the store where I bought my old one, two blocks from my apartment, and of the three realistic backpack choices, chose one.

Lesson 3: Despite Lessons 1 and 2, I nevertheless felt a twinge of reluctance to buy the new backpack. Why? Because I’m an under-buyer.  We under-buyers really dislike the process of buying, and will go to elaborate lengths to avoid it. Over-buyers, on the other hand, go out of their way to find reasons to buy.

That’s a lot of self-knowledge to process in a single afternoon! But mission accomplished.

Want to know if you’re a finisher or an opener? Look here.

Want to know if you’re a satisficer or maximizer? Listen to my sister and me discuss it on the very first episode of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Want to know if you’re an under-buyer or over-buyer? Take this quiz.


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than BeforeOn her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Nick Scheerbart.