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Being Happy vs. Feeling Happy

I was thinking about people who eat fatty or sugary foods or indulge in drugs or who steal or who act solely on impulse in general. They’re doing it because it feels good at the time or they think it will get them what they want. And in the short term it does – a burst of adrenaline or endorphins or whatever they think will make them happy at that moment. But that isn’t sustainable and they have to keep doing those things to get the feeling back or to prolong it.

Other people, and I like to think I’m in this group, have an internal happiness that is naturally sustained. For these people, what they gain from doing the negative behaviors are small in comparison to what they already have. So there’s less real value gained, especially compared to the consequences.

Why do these groups of people differ? I think it’s because one group has, at some point, taken a step back from their day-to-day lives. They’ve had the opportunity to stand outside themselves and see things a little differently. And often they tend to see things from a higher vantage point where they can get a view of the bigger picture.

In your daily life you see yourself through your own lens. When you make a choice you always know the reasons and think that they’re good reasons.

Others are rarely privy to your reasoning. They see your behaviors without the knowledge that you have come up with a good reason for it. And many times their observation is more accurate than yours.

Many times these reasons are just rationalizations for making the decisions you have made. This is called cognitive dissonance and it’s caused when you have two conflicting ideas. On the one hand, you think of yourself as being nice and generous. On the other you’ve just done something that is mean or selfish.

In fact, many times we choose first and come up with reasons later. When you’re faced this conflicting view of yourself, you come up with a reason why you would have done it. These are tough to shake off. No one likes to think they’re selfish, rude, mean, thoughtless or evil, but sometimes that’s what it is when you take away rationalizations.

You have to take that step back to see your real self sometimes. And those who are truly happy with themselves are happy with who they are in the world. These people look at themselves from the outside fairly often and adjust their behavior to match what they want. In effect they shape who they really are to match who they think they are.

How Much Is Free Time Worth?

I’ve spent a good amount of time in contemplation of man’s balancing of work and so called free time – that in which he is wholly his own master. It is my considered opinion that I am truly lousy at striking this balance naturally and so I have begun to apply logic and economics to the problem, as best I can without actually knowing anything about logic or economics.

First, let’s start with some assumptions and concepts of value. I will assume that I get enjoyment and happiness from my free time and that is the value I’m seeking. To keep things simple at first, I’ll assume that there is no value to be gained from working other than monetary compensation. It might seem that the choice is easy, then: maximize free time and to hell with work!

But it’s more complex than that because money made from working can the value of each free hour. Money increases the diversity of experience through travel, eating out, decorating, etc. Going to the extreme of work makes no sense either: lots of wonderful toys but no time to play. Some balance between work and play is necessary to, in economics terms, maximize the total value of free time.

Staying with economics for just a minute, I’d like to introduce some concepts and make them relevant to the discussion.

  1. The total number of hours to devote to working and free time is zero-sum or fixed-sum. So the more time I spend working, the less I have free.
  2. The more scarce a resource, the greater its value. So the less free time, the more valuable each hour becomes intrinsically.
  3. Opportunity cost is the relative cost of making one choice over another – in other words the loss of total value of free time by moving the equilibrium in either direction.

Now let’s reach out into the real world and see how we can apply them. For example, most people I know are on a fixed-income salary. Each extra hour they work produces no extra money. So effectively you get what we typically observe – people work the minimum hours to satisfy requirements.

Now let’s address a hidden assumption here: that you control the number of hours you work. If, instead, you assume that hours worked are not controlled, we get something different. When the equilibrium is shifted in either direction, we get less total value of our free time. If that shift happens in the direction of free time, we can always find work to do to fill idle time so we can still maximize the value of our free time. But when the shift reduces our free time the problems begin.

What happens exactly? The total value of our free time decreases but the hourly rate increases. Whereas the hourly rate of our monetary compensation goes down. We’ll want to try to restore the previous equilibrium, though doing so is tricky and may be out of our direct control. This may mean renegotiating salary, looking for a new job or simply refusing to work the extra hours.

The salary renegotiation option is interesting – basically this is an attempt to reinstate a new equilibrium with a higher total monetary compensation. What I’m currently interested in is what this does to the ratio of the hourly values. If the value per hour of free time rises, is there an equivalent rise in the money per hour worked? Is the rise of one larger than the rise of the other?

If I go from working 40 hours per week to working 50 hours per week, how much more should I be making? If I was making $10 per hour before, should I make the same now (ie. $400 to $500 per week)? If my hourly rate is to go up or down, by how much?