There are a lot of ways to arrive at making a difficult decision. Pro and con lists, risk-benefit analyses, and flipping a coin?

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It turns out, if you want to be happy with your choice, relying on the coin flip is the way to go.

One of the authors of Freakonomics, and a University at Chicago economist Steven Levitt found that when it comes to big, life-changing decisions, people are happier with the choices they made based on a coin flip than any other method.

In a new paper published in the Oxford Review of Economic Studies, Leavitt says people often act with too much caution when deciding to make a big change, or stick with how things are going.

"This article reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are more likely to make a change, more satisfied with their decisions, and happier six months later than those whose coin toss instructed maintaining the status quo."

-Steven Levitt in "Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness"

Here's how it worked: yes and no choices were assigned to either side of a coin. A third-party observer reported on the subjects twice since the coin flip. They found after two months, participants regretted their choice to not maintain the status quo, but after six months, were happy with making a big change.

Leavitt says this is different than most economic theories because "those models focus on gains and losses and not how the choice impacts how you feel."

He says that when it comes to big decision making, "whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo.”


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