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Can't Decide on a Big Life Change? People Who Change Are ‘Overwhelmingly' More Content Than Those Who Don't, Study Says

Credit: veronka & cia

Making decisions, especially big life decisions like switching jobs or moving, can be stressful. And if you agonize over decisions, it can even lead to unhappiness, according to experts. 

But a new study suggests a "good rule of thumb in decision-making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo," says University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, who conducted the study.

Levitt's study asked 22,511 people to make a decision on a dilemma based on the outcome of a coin toss. Researchers then followed up to see whether participants followed through with the decision and how they felt about it.

Questions ranged in seriousness from "Should I start my own business?" and "Should I propose?" to "Should I grow facial hair? For the coin toss, "heads" meant make the change and "tails" meant do not.

The study found that "for important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), individuals who [were] 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," according to the study abstract.

In other words, "overwhelmingly, the people who made a change were more content than those who didn't," Levitt, who is also the author of best-selling book "Freakonomics," tells CNBC Make It.

Indeed, study participants who made a change were more likely to say they would make the same decision if they had to do it all over again, and that was true for virtually every kind of decision. 

And while people who flipped tails and decided to not make any changes were happy about their decision at first (after two months), by the sixth month mark, they were not.

The study also showed that a nudge in the direction of change, like a positive coin toss, may help: The study found that those who flipped "heads" were approximately 25%  more likely to report making a change than those who got "tails."

Levitt says the coin toss was equally influential between men and women, across all age groups and income levels. 

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