Optimal/Suboptimal

Somewhere along the lines, I picked up this definition of optimal from Rory Sutherland:

The optimal amount is just enough that we don’t think about it, and not too much that we really think about it.

Having enough money for most people is where you don’t have to think about what you’re putting in your cart at the grocery store, but not too much that you’re too obsessed over your investments to focus enjoying what you’re bringing home to make dinner with.

The optimal car costs a price that doesn’t make you feel bad and doesn’t lead you to obsess over if anyone is going to scratch it in the parking lot while you’re in the grocery store.

Note the different uses of optimal, where it sometimes means best on an absolute basis, and other times means best on a relative basis (ex. best to you personally).

It may be optimal to earn more money, but relatively we may not be happier. It may be optimal to have a nicer care, but relatively we may not be happier. Not happier does not mean relatively suboptimal even if it does mean absolutely suboptimal.

Best relative to ourselves is often what matters most, even if that appears suboptimal on an absolute basis.

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