Flip a coin to make a big change?

At four months I am still basking in the glory of our big life change. According to the economic researcher Steven D. Levitt, author of “Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness,” acting on important life decisions can have “a measurable impact on later happiness.” Despite a powerful urge to maintain the status quo or as he puts it, “a substantial bias against making changes” his research shows that our lives can be considerably enriched if we act now!

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This is a chart from Steven D. Levitt’s study. It shows a list of the life events from which participants could choose to act based on a coin toss. “Heads” you make the change, “Tails” you do nothing.  Hey, where’s the “Sell your car and hoof it everywhere” option?

The research was discussed in a this New York Times article in which the journalist writes about the phenomenon of making big changes as “giving ourselves permission.” He uses the example of uprooting his family to live abroad for a year; a project that I also happen to be plotting for us. He suggests that we are all secretly waiting for someone to give us permission to do something outrageous, something big, something we have always wanted to do. The NY Times writer posits that what other people think is the thing that is holding us back more than anything else. Mr. Levitt’s research doesn’t tackle the reasons for the bias against change so much as how we can get over the hurdles rather than smoking pot under the bleachers. I agree that it takes some courage to jump into the unknown. But right now I am reveling in it with the occasional throbbing heel and sore quads.

I feel strangely invincible; like anything is possible. I guess that’s something like “happy.”

The author, in examining biases and problems inherent in any research study, suggests that some participants may have reported that they were happier after the life change, such as quitting their jobs or leaving their spouse, because, well, who would want to admit that they made that mistake? In his words, “It is possible that the coin tosser misrepresents his or her happiness not just to the experimenter, but also to friends and family,” and even to themselves. I sometimes worry that I am engaging in the unconscious mental game of self-deception to avoid “the regret associated with the action.” I really don’t think so. People may expect us to stay how we are, to maintain the status quo, but my experience is that people are curious and supportive of our choice. And that definitely makes me happy.


Author: zerocarmom

I am a 50-year-old mom with two kids (ages 7 and 24), a husband who works in our attic, a sneezy old cat, and a full-time job as the co-founder of a Brooklyn-based business. My family lives a mostly idyllic life in a small village in the Hudson Valley, sixty miles north of New York City.

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