Wisdom//

What We Can Learn From This Japanese Princess’s Choice

Princess Ayako of Japan gave up her royal status to marry a commoner. Here’s what we can learn from her about how to make tough decisions.

JIJI PRESS / Contributor / Getty Images

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry definitely aren’t the only royals. While the British royals have dazzled the world recently, another princess, Japan’s Princess Ayako, has been planning a wedding. The consequences of that wedding provide some important lessons about the difficult choices that accompany major forks in our life paths.

In Japan, according to imperial law, female members of the royal family have to forfeit their titles, status, and allowance if they marry commoners. And that’s just what Princess Ayako chose to do. She married Kei Moriya, an employee of shipping company Nippon Yusen KK, who has no royal blood, giving up her royal status in the process: No longer a princess, she’s now married to the man she loves.

Princess Ayako is not leaving the royal family out of a lack of attachment. “I will leave the imperial family today, but I will remain unchanged in my support for his Majesty and her Majesty,” she said at a news conference. The decision to give up her position in Japan’s royal family was likely a difficult one. But she found a way to make it.

Princesses aren’t the only ones to face these kinds of monumental decisions, even if the stakes for most people aren’t about parting with a royal title. Lots of people have faced questions like: Do you move for a job in a strange city, or give up a job (like Princess Ayako) to pursue a relationship?

These choices are stressful, but they provide certain kinds of opportunity, too, says Katherine Phillips, Ph.D., a professor at Columbia Business School who studies decision making. “Making big life decisions provides an opportunity to step back and think about what you really want, what you value, and if the change will be better than your current option. It gives you an opportunity to assess things.” And even though big decisions can serve as stressors, they can also occasionally prompt a longer-term positive effect on stress levels. “People can use the opportunity to think about the stressors in their lives and how this change could help manage them,” Phillips explains. For Princess Ayako, who hasn’t spoken about her experience with this major transition, choosing love over status may have provided an opportunity to think through what’s important to her.

Odds are, if Princess Ayako thought it through, she’ll be happy with her decision. “If people feel like they did their best to gather information, consider alternatives, and reflect and assess, they are usually better able to accept the decision and make it work,” Phillips says. There’s often no one right answer when you’re making a big life decision, and no way to know what outcomes will look like exactly. “Every time we make a decision we have limited information. We are always making the best decision we can with what we have available to us,” Phillips explains. But making as thorough and systematic a consideration of your decision as you can will likely leave you feeling satisfied with the leap you’ve taken, in whatever direction — including away from a throne.

Here, some advice to help you think through tough choices:

Go through pros and cons — but make sure they’re tailored to you

“Weighing pros and cons can help with the process,” Phillips says. But pros and cons are personal, she emphasizes, which means that your list has to take into account self-knowledge and understanding. “Maybe you don’t need social support as much, or maybe you are good at creating new relationships,” which she points out may mean that the cons of moving for a new job might be fewer for you than for someone who has trouble making friends.

Know that no decision is perfect

It’s important to remember that however hard we try to make rational decisions, you may fall prey to biases and heuristics that can affect the information you gather and how much weight you put on that information, Phillips says. But keep in mind that no decision is perfect, and that if you’ve done your best to think through your choice you are still most likely to accept the decision and make it work.

Reach out to people who’ve gone through this before

“Seek out advice from others who have done this before,” Phillips suggests. For Princess Ayako, that’s probably a very limited pool of people, but for most of us, big stressful life decisions, like choosing whether to move, get married, have children, or leave a job, are usually ones that other people in our lives have also faced. Reach out to a friend, relative, or trusted colleague who has made this choice before. They can help.

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