Overpaying for happiness?

post by cousin_it · 2015-01-01T12:22:31.833Z · score: 32 (33 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 67 comments

Happy New Year, everyone!

In the past few months I've been thinking several thoughts that all seem to point in the same direction:

1) People who live in developed Western countries usually make and spend much more money than people in poorer countries, but aren't that much happier. It feels like we're overpaying for happiness, spending too much money to get a single bit of enjoyment.

2) When you get enjoyment from something, the association between "that thing" and "pleasure" in your mind gets stronger, but at the same time it becomes less sensitive and requires more stimulus. For example if you like sweet food, you can get into a cycle of eating more and more food that's sweeter and sweeter. But the guy next door, who's eating much less and periodically fasting to keep the association fresh, is actually getting more pleasure from food than you are! The same thing happens when you learn to deeply appreciate certain kinds of art, and then notice that the folks who enjoy "low" art are visibly having more fun.

3) People sometimes get unrealistic dreams and endlessly chase them, like trying to "make it big" in writing or sports, because they randomly got rewarded for it at an early age. I wrote a post about that.

I'm not offering any easy answers here. But it seems like too many people get locked in loops where they spend more and more effort to get less and less happiness. The most obvious examples are drug addiction and video gaming, but also "one-itis" in dating, overeating, being a connoisseur of anything, striving for popular success, all these things follow the same pattern. You're just chasing after some Skinner-box thing that you think you "love", but it doesn't love you back.

Sooo... if you like eating, give yourself a break every once in a while? If you like comfort, maybe get a cold shower sometimes? Might be a good idea to make yourself the kind of person that can get happiness cheaply.

Sorry if this post is not up to LW standards, I typed it really quickly as it came to my mind.

67 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-02T00:26:39.755Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW · GW

How many people here put deliberate effort into tasting their food as they eat it?

Try this.

When you're eating (alone). Take some food on your fork. Take a bite. Put down your fork. Don't pick up your fork until you have finished chewing and swallowed EVERYTHING in your mouth.

Doing this is amazing to me in two respects. 1) The amount of flavor that you become aware of, when you make it your priority is astounding. The pure visceral enjoyment is easily doubled (as best as I can attribute to subjective and unincremented scale). 2) This is really hard. The habitual pressure to start gathering more food before you've finished what's in your mouth is enormous. I sometimes have to force myself to push on the plate with my fork to prevent the thoughtless action.

I am interested to see how others' impressions differ from mine.

comment by pinyaka · 2015-01-02T20:00:39.829Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My wifes rule for desert: eat have whatever she wants, but only gets five (reasonable size) bites. She tends to eat desert slowly and really savors everything about them, but says that after about the fifth bite she can't taste anything any more anyway.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-12T00:03:14.385Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Would people here be interested in top level posts on this topic, namely techniques for being present, living intentionally, and enjoying stuff?

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-02T01:50:06.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I started doing something like this when I noticed that I was eating one of my go-to foods (burritos) so perfunctorily that I was barely even bothering to chew, much less to taste. The experience really is quite different. Yes, it takes longer, but the odds are poor that I was going to get more pleasure out of the time difference than I did out of really experiencing the mixture of flavors and textures and temperatures and so on in the food.

I should do this more often with other foods. I love to eat, but I often eat too damn fast to really enjoy it.

comment by listic · 2015-01-03T11:31:00.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds nice, but I'm afraid I would be eating all day if I would eat like this. And maybe even starve, still.

If the point is to get more enjoyment cheaply, for me this will turn out too expensive. I'm looking for ways to spend less time on eating, as it is. I'm pondering whether Soylent/Joylent/Abbott Ensure or other synthetic food as replacement for some of the meals will make my diet both healthier and faster.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-04T01:11:44.286Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have found that humans generally eat way more than they need to, and that eating less causes me to have more energy. If you were practicing "focused eating" for every meal, I think you'd probably notice that you're full sooner and eat less.

The only exception I can think of, if if you're doing heavy strength training, in which case you'll be ravenous.

Disclaimer: I have no idea how generalizable my experience is. Your metabolism may differ significantly form mine.

comment by Wes_W · 2015-01-04T02:34:48.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have found that humans generally eat way more than they need to,

This seems to me very unlikely, since deviations of more than few percent from TDEE lead to unmistakably rapid weight gain or loss.

Still, I like the idea of "focused eating" for enjoyment, and plan to try it a few times.

Interestingly, just as I lack the skill of eating slowly, some people seem to lack the skill of eating quickly. This skill isn't as useful for hedonic purposes, but does have some practical applications.

comment by listic · 2015-01-11T21:27:28.919Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My metabolism is not necessarily that different, but my rate of eating is. For whatever reason, I eat slowly; probably in 10% slowest eating humans. At one point, having a lunch break on my job, I was choosing a lunch on the basis of which food I could eat the fastest, so that I can manage to eat my lunch on time (mostly porridge, which is healthy, I guess).

comment by Capla · 2015-01-12T00:00:59.242Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Intriguing. Do you think while you eat?

comment by listic · 2015-01-12T09:07:13.994Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I do think while I eat. Do you think it hurts?

comment by Capla · 2015-01-12T19:43:39.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. I'm just wondering if paying attention to your eating (instead of your thinking), might cause you to eat faster.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-01-01T16:40:25.882Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

To paraphrase some business guru: I know half of my happiness budget is wasted, but I don't know which half.

comment by Alexei · 2015-01-17T06:15:27.998Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A/B test?

comment by lmm · 2015-01-01T23:39:18.889Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Others have written about the "hedonic treadmill" here.

1) People who live in developed Western countries usually make and spend much more money than people in poorer countries, but aren't that much happier. It feels like we're overpaying for happiness, spending too much money to get a single bit of enjoyment.

It's worth saying explicitly that we are, nevertheless, happier.

The efficiency goes down (hence that "happy planet index" linked to), but to my eyes this looks like nothing more than ordinary diminishing returns, which affect many things we might want to invest in. (Unfortunately that suggests there's no easy answer).

I think a lot of these effects are genuine: a $3000 dollar suit is only as much better than a $300 suit as a $300 suit is than a $30 suit, and sure some of that is signalling but I think most of it is that it takes a lot of skilled human labour to make the difference between a quite nice suit and a super nice suit.

Sooo... if you like eating, give yourself a break every once in a while? If you like comfort, maybe get a cold shower sometimes? Might be a good idea to make yourself the kind of person that can get happiness cheaply.

Maybe, but I'd like to see evidence before recommending this. My instinct is that it's possible to learn to appreciate an "ordinary" life, and that this would probably provide more overall pleasure than the boom-and-bust cycle you seem to be advocating. But it would be good to have some actual numbers.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2015-01-03T14:40:34.429Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The high end of clothing is pretty much entirely veblen pricing - I sew for a hobby, and the maximally nice suit would cost: 6 meters of high-end wool fabric: 120 euro. 5 meters of silk for lining: 70 euro. Bits and bobs (Buttons, ect) 10. Doing the whole thing without shortcuts (French seams, double stitching).. 15 hours? For me. An actual tailor is likely faster, but even at first world wages, its another 300 euro, max, so totals out to 500 euro. Sanity checking this by looking up the local tailors rates for a suit... yup, 500 to 800.

Any suit costing more than this is entirely down to people paying over the odds to show they have money to burn. Or not realizing that their clothing budget has reached the point where they should just stop trying to find nicer things in the shops and get everything tailored.

I self taught sewing via the internet and deconstructing worn out bits of my wardrobe. Which led to 2 hilarious realizations.
1: jeans are the pinnacle of industrial clothing production. All the seams are done right, the edges are folded in so nothing can unravel, the stress points are reinforced, the sizing system makes actual sense, and the cloth is basically indestructible. And they are cheap.

2; Everything else. And I do mean every single other item of clothing that I owned that had been bought in a shop? Soddy manufacture. Things that cost easily 3 times as much as a pair of jeans were manufactured to nowhere near as high a standard. And looking at the detail work in more upscale establishments than I usually buy at indicate that doesn't actually change much at all going up the price scale. And this is for mens wear. The things people foist on women make me want to cry.

comment by eeuuah · 2015-01-05T05:26:13.980Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the buttons on a high end suit can cost much more than 10 euro. First hit on amazon for mother of pearl buttons is $36, and I'm sure there are more expensive materials in use. Likewise for fabric, I think. Do you need these things? No. But they exist, and you can pay for them.

Also typically the cost of clothing approximately doubles every times it changes hands, so if cost of product was $500, the retailer might pay $1000, and the consumer might pay $2000.

High fashion really is expensive just to be expensive, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-25T13:39:17.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The interesting thing is not even that high fashion is largely meant to signal wealth. People could be wearing some random tracksuit and show of their wealth with jewelry - that is actually a saner investment resales value wise. But that would be called "ghetto", "not classy", largely because it is so obvious.

High fashion is for people who want to show off wealth while not looking like someone who wants to show off wealth. Counter-signalling - people trying to look like someone who does not need to look wealthy anymore, because the people who do are middle class and these people are one level higher.

But since even this is too obvious, about 10-15 years ago a new category of people (I think it overlaps a lot with the category called "hipsters") emerged who purposefully try to look poor / not conventionally rich and yet you can guess they have money because they always have the latest iProducts.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-25T14:09:53.761Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People could be wearing some random tracksuit and show of their wealth with jewelry - that is actually a saner investment resales value wise. But that would be called "ghetto", "not classy", largely because it is so obvious.

Men can wear expensive watches and women in high fashion do wear expensive jewelry.

Besides that a tailored item is a better signal for wealth than jewelry that can be loaned for an important event.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2015-01-05T15:07:04.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Shorter, clearer point: past a certain price point, buying clothes in shops is daft - Anything which you buy off rack is going to be strictly inferior in terms of fit and construction to the tailored version, so once you pass the price point where you could elect to patronize a tailor, the only possible reason to spend more money is status signaling. With a side order of signaling one does not grasp how to spend money correctly. Personally I sew everything other than jeans. Hmm. You know what, I need a new suit or two anyway. This should make a funny blog post in about 2 weeks.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-25T13:39:44.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Tailoring assumes unchanging weight/shape.

comment by FvEYfaEQSeeWcnZ · 2015-01-09T18:16:49.046Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have an opinion on http://outlier.cc/ clothing?

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-02T12:11:52.051Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that's quite the same as the hedonic treadmill. In a hedonic treadmill, your happiness stays roughly constant. But in a "futile dreams" situation, you're actually getting less and less happy with time.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-02T01:05:10.668Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if the idea in the post is a reformulation of hedonic treadmill. In a hedonic treadmill, your happiness level stays constant, but in a "futile dreams" situation you're actually becoming less and less happy over time.

Maybe you can learn to appreciate an "ordinary" life. It's just that I usually prefer solutions that involve physical actions and changes (however stupid) to solutions that involve introspection, because the gains of introspection often go away in the morning and you're just as unhappy as you were. YMMV.

comment by beoShaffer · 2015-01-04T00:28:56.004Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You might be interested in the earlier retirement community, particularly the Mustachian branch. They spend a decent bit of time on the concept of the hedonic treadmill in general, with a particular focus on how it causes people to waste money.

Although Mustachianism is built on the idea of embracing hardship, it becomes so automatic that it is soon the only way you could imagine living. Because of this amazing tendency, it is often easier to live on 25% of a professional income (and save the other 75%) than it is to try to scrape by on 90% and save 10.

-Mr.Money Mustache

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-01T18:16:48.343Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

People who live in developed Western countries usually make and spend much more money than people in poorer countries, but aren't that much happier. It feels like we're overpaying for happiness, spending too much money to get a single bit of enjoyment.

Status competitions are mostly zero sum. To the extent that people get happiness from status (and it seems like a huge component of most people's psychological well-being and life satisfaction), you would expect that people in developed Western countries would have to spend much more than similar people in developing countries to get similar levels of status.

I do think it's very hard to measure the enjoyment derived from activities, and many people are probably not optimizing their spending well.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-01T18:55:04.863Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, point taken.

As an aside, I'm not sure that status-derived happiness is always zero-sum. Imagine a society where everyone considers themselves worthless compared to Cthulhu. You can make everyone feel better about their status by explaining that Cthulhu doesn't exist. You can do the same in our world as well, by substituting "Cthulhu" with "photoshopped supermodels".

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-01T22:01:23.338Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. The main caveat I had in mind is that communities are not fixed- it's easy for everyone to be a big fish in a little pond if there are lots of little ponds and people weight most of their time towards the ponds in which they are big. See the Loser section of the Gervais Principle, but also note the caveat there that there are big status competitions that it's problematic to try to opt out of.

comment by Larks · 2015-01-02T03:59:55.261Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Or you could even invent a new anti-Cthulhu for everyone to feel better than.

comment by B_For_Bandana · 2015-01-02T00:05:22.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

by substituting "Cthulhu" with "photoshopped supermodels".

This solves a surprisingly high proportion of personal problems, I've found.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-02T00:20:13.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. I sometimes find that I really like the old-fashioned words for some emotions, like "envy" or "sloth". Kinda puts them in their proper perspective.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-01-02T17:42:40.970Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To the extent that people get happiness from status (and it seems like a huge component of most people's psychological well-being and life satisfaction), you would expect that people in developed Western countries would have to spend much more than similar people in developing countries to get similar levels of status.

I hear this explanation mentioned a lot, but it doesn't seem to quite fit my experience (maybe I'm an atypical mind?). To be clear, I certainly do get a lot of boosts to well-being from being high status in a way which is zero-sum (e.g. people devoting more attention to me than others), but the situations where I feel most comfortable tend to be in communities and situations that feel status-flat, and where basically everyone is respected an equal amount. It is also my experience that most groups of friends will tend to become this, especially over time, and that status considerations are more relevant when interacting with "outsiders" who you aren't direct close friends with.

Since people presumably prefer to spend more time with their friends than outsiders, the notion that status is a huge component of people's well-being has always seemed a little puzzling to me. I wonder if this may be a cultural difference, since Finland has a very status-flat culture in general.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-02T19:12:38.328Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would buy the claim that Finland is more status-flat than other cultures. I suspect the perception is also affected by 'bubbling,' in the sense of people looking at the local status landscape and saying "it looks flat to me here." Yes, but that could be because your eye stops at the hills and valleys; your friends being all comparable status is both predicted by everyone being roughly equal status and people preferentially befriending people at roughly the same status.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-01-03T08:05:32.992Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

your friends being all comparable status is both predicted by everyone being roughly equal status and people preferentially befriending people at roughly the same status.

That sounds correct.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-01-01T19:58:58.030Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do think it's very hard to measure the enjoyment derived from activities, and many people are probably not optimizing their spending well.

Yes. invest in experience not in things

comment by Dorikka · 2015-01-01T20:04:18.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. Also, having a diverse set of experiences can help you empathize (or at least familiarize yourself with) the perspectives of different people, or the desires, interests, and incentives of people in different situations. Purchasing most items is unlikely to provide the same benefit.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-02T12:09:34.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I saw someone on Reddit express the opinion that the meaning of life is to have deep emotional interactions with other people, or "feelings jams". Wouldn't say that's completely true, but it's an interesting alternative to chasing material things, hobbies, or diverse experiences :-)

comment by Dorikka · 2015-01-01T19:59:41.056Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if introspecting on a general desire for status to gain precision/resolution regarding which subclasses of humans you want to consider you high status would significantly improve resource efficiency? If you can shape your social surroundings so that system 1 wants to accomplish your terminal values to gain status with your social group, you might be able to make the phenomenon work in your favor.

comment by imuli · 2015-01-01T17:55:04.510Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Might much of happiness comes from positional goods rather than absolute goods?

comment by emr · 2015-01-02T02:41:43.053Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It seems that some activities are predicated on the belief in a later "payoff", while others are not.

It's easy to get confused about payoffs, and to find ourselves trapped (acting as if we are) chasing some payoff, when the supposed payoff can't plausible exist, or at least not in the size or form that we allow ourselves to believe.

For example, beating a video game doesn't provide a large pay-off, at least for me. But it's easy to catch myself acting as though a non-trivial emotional reward is waiting at the end, and to forget that the moment-by-moment experience is the valuable thing.

Bertrand Russell once made a comment about how giving up hope for certain knowledge played a role in overcoming his unhappiness. I wonder how many people here can relate to this. I've often felt an essentially unpleasant compulsion to fully refute some skeptical possibility or resolve some intractable philosophic problem. Realizing that the exact emotional feeling of resolution I was seeking was unobtainable was a tremendous relief to me.

Another class of problems involves taking a genuine payoff and exaggerating its size or extending its domain. It's perfectly reasonable to want to get rich or have success in a competitive career. But it's just not going to have more than a moderate impact on most areas of your emotional life, (relative to having a typical amount of money or success). A good romantic relationship is hugely rewarding, but you can't expect it to fix the whole litany of emotional problems you might have.

I'm listening to some recording of Alan Watts. No rationalist he! But he understands certain quirks in the psychology of people who are searching for spiritual insight: He argues that demanding spiritual practices function as reductio ad absurdumm to get people to accept that this whole "climb and mountain and unlock the door" model of enlightenment is wrong. Likewise, there's a small thread in most moral traditions that says "virtue is actually easier than non-virtue".

comment by robot-dreams · 2015-01-01T19:35:33.994Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Great advice! I noticed something like this happening last time I tried to binge-read a webcomic. Initially I'm really engaged and frequently laughing, but a few hours later I end up clicking through strips in zombie mode.

comment by CBHacking · 2015-01-02T01:45:33.918Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like that is a really short-term version of what the OP is talking about, but yes, it applies. Same in other areas: playing any given video game for too long at a time, sometimes even reading a good book for too long, even spending too much time doing the same exotic/unusual thing. The amount of time it takes to get adapted and the level your happiness adapts to may differ from scenario to scenario, but it does happen. I try to remember to switch activities every few hours even when I'm still enjoying myself, unless I'm enjoying myself at least as much as I was earlier.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-02T20:19:39.763Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You know, with regards to utilitarianism, I wonder if I could do more good helping first-world people to enjoy the things they have and to generally have more fulfilling lives. I imagine that this can be done at a much cheaper rate than, say, building wells in Africa (though of course the two approaches needn't be and shouldn't be mutually exclusive).

Does any one else have ideas for interventions (perhaps teachings) that would yield happier people?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-02-25T18:21:09.916Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are various services and products on the self help market.

If you want to focus on more evidence-based approaches, there's the positive psychology literature. Martin Seligman's TED talk gives an overview.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-01-04T13:30:02.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Seems like a good idea. If we assume that the people you want to help already have the money, they are only using it suboptimally, then the only expense is your time spent explaining them how to use it better (and researching). And if you would charge them for the advice, that would even cover your costs.

So, you could call yourself a "happiness advisor", read a few books about happiness, give people around you ideas how to improve their lives... and perhaps at the beginning just ask them for voluntary donations if they feel your ideas have improved their lives. Also ask them for some kind of written feedback, which you will use as an advertising later. Later you could optionally switch from donations to hourly rate; or maybe provide the first lesson for free, and the following lessons for money.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-04T21:01:30.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok. This made me laugh.

I was thinking are there smaller interventions that I could convince many people to take up. For instance, I want to look into 100 happy days, but depending on how effective it is, widespread proselytizing of similar tolls may be a cheap way to raise a lot of utility.

That said, I was thinking today, that If I were given long term direct contact with a willing student, I probably could teach him/her to live in Joy (I'm thinking of stoic philosophy and Buddhist non-attachment, plus all the behaviors I've discovered or invented to help me live intentionally). I've long thought that I should wight a book called Techniques for Intentional Living. Hmmm...I suppose I could open a personal advisory business. It would fit in well with the other work I do. However, I don't think one-on-one consultation is a good plan for high impact.

So, you could call yourself a "happiness advisor", read a few books about happiness, give people around you ideas how to improve their lives... and perhaps at the beginning just ask them for voluntary donations if they feel your ideas have improved their lives. Also ask them for some kind of written feedback, which you will use as an advertising later.

I should note that this isn't far off from what the CFAR is aiming at. Ultimately, rationality should convert to accomplishment of one's goals, and if one's goals are well chosen (which may or may not also fall under the umbrella of rationality?), accomplishment should convert to satisfaction.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-01-01T17:20:35.922Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

very tangential...

3) People sometimes get unrealistic dreams and endlessly chase them, like trying to "make it big" in writing or sports, because they randomly got rewarded for it at an early age. I wrote a post about that.

You don't talk about random rewards in that post.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2015-01-02T00:11:54.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think he means that the fact they got rewarded at all had an element of luck to it, not that the rewards themselves were on a random-reinforcement schedule.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-01-02T03:44:40.713Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that is what he meant in this post. I should have phrased my comment more clearly. But that doesn't answer my confusion: the other post doesn't talk about either kind of randomness.

As for reality, I think that people people pursue these dreams because they really were the best in their high school. Maybe they became the best in high school because they pursued it earlier because it was arbitrarily reinforced much earlier in life. But that random step seems to me a different, earlier step than the topic of the other post.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2015-01-02T04:16:54.141Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that is what he meant in this post. I should have phrased my comment more clearly. But that doesn't answer my confusion: the other post doesn't talk about either kind of randomness.

It's only mentioned in passing in the last paragraph, so the summary on the link here may have been a little misleading.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-01-02T07:16:12.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by [deleted] · 2015-02-25T13:43:22.354Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While the return is diminishing, the addiction potential is increasing. One possible solution is indeed to go stoic, go for hormesis: http://gettingstronger.org/hormesis/

But I wonder if just varying your enjoyments would work? Planning a different kind of fun for every evening. Today it is chocolate, tomorrow we get drunk, day after we go see a movie, day after we play tennis...

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-07T15:13:47.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do we have a good definition of happiness? Because otherwise, what are we paying for? It seems like peope are paying for some short- to medium-term gratification.

This also begs the question that, even if we don't know what happiness is, does achieving it means we have to pay? Certainly we must put some effort in, but it does not mean all effort is equally rewarding.

For example, last Monday I asked a girl out. I got a no and felt short-term disappointence and a lower amount of medium-term disappointance but looking back I feel quite happy I did that because I learned a few things about myself and I also tried something I've never done before. I felt a moment of "Ah, this wasn't in the books nor in the mouth-to-ear advice" and feel like the next time I do it I'll have a better chance. (Or so I think!)

From this, I conclude that my happiness is long-term satisfaction that my past efforts resulted in excellent or at least good returns. In contrast, unhappiness was long-term dissatisfaction that my effort resulted in either nil or very negative rewards for the effort put in. Also of particular note that short-, medium-, and long-term satisfaction is quite different in intensity. Short-term is quite high. Medium-term is when things start slowly to calm down, but you still feel the high of the short-term. Long term is when you look back, look at the result, and say "I did the right thing". Lastly, I belive that my successes can live on infinitely whereas if I pursue temporary happiness I will get basically nothing.

And, somewhat related to the title, I didn't pay a single penny. I think some people are going to be offended and I might possibly get some examples that will enrage me because they sound stupid but I say that money does not equal happiness and is not (and if you think otherwise should not) be on a high priority in things that lead to happiness. I'd certainly feel better with shelter, nutritious food, warm showers, and many other things that money has direct relations to. But I do not feel like I have to overpay for that. Some money absolutely has to be paid, but do not overestimate the amount that you need to.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-02T00:16:21.579Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

http://100happydays.com/

Will anyone try this? For those of you who ignore this, instead, please leave a comment telling me why. Is that the rational thing to do?

comment by Larks · 2015-01-02T03:59:01.126Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I am ignoring it because I do not recognise your username, the url did not seem very high status and neither did your comment credibly signal the quality. My prior was low because the internet is full of useless self-help.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-02T06:12:59.955Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What I was looking for.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-01-02T15:04:19.502Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I clicked through, glanced at the basic idea, thought, "I'm pretty happy already. I think there were around 2 days in the last 100 when I wasn't happy, and that's a pretty good rate, and what made me unhappy then was something this random internet self-help wouldn't have fixed." So I stopped.

comment by eeuuah · 2015-01-05T05:20:51.119Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  • the font is obnoxious
  • I've already tried gratitude journaling, and don't expect this to be hugely different
  • seems like other-optimizing
comment by Punoxysm · 2015-01-02T08:47:09.179Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I will not do this because I do not want to use my social media accounts in this way, but if gratitude journals work this probably would too.

comment by Capla · 2015-01-02T20:14:19.455Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but taking pictures of things is a lot easier.

Beware trivial inconveniences.

comment by solipsist · 2015-01-01T14:41:34.381Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting hypothesis. Here are some others

  • Richer countries are just richer and spend more money on most things.
  • On the level of countries, income can go to consumption, investment, or exports. Developing countries have better growth opportunities than rich ones and expend proportionally more resources on investment. That leaves consumption and exports to absorb rich countries better value-creation abilities. Rich countries could keep their consumption levels low, say by donating large amounts of money to foreign charities, but they usually spend it on consumption.
  • In the end, there's not much more that people want to do than be happy.

(I am not an economist and would appreciate terminology corrections)

comment by DanArmak · 2015-01-01T14:34:39.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For example if you like sweet food, you can get into a cycle of eating more and more food that's sweeter and sweeter. But the guy next door, who's eating much less and periodically fasting to keep the association fresh, is actually getting more pleasure from food than you!

The other guy is having more pleasure per unit of food, and maybe per second spent eating deliberately tasty food. But does he necessarily have more pleasure in total? How do you know?

I do agree with your conclusion, for a different reason. Today's affluent Western people have access to a huge range of fun activities, far more so than any previous human population. Enjoying any one activity has diminishing returns per unit time. So to maximize the total amount of enjoyment, we should sample many things instead of becoming experts in any one (fun-oriented) thing, even though becoming an expert can occasionally grant the highest possible momentary enjoyment of a masterpiece.

The difference from your formulation is that you wouldn't fast to reset the reward value of tasty food; you just consider the opportunity cost of buying and preparing especially tasty food, and then don't do it as much because you invest in other stuff instead. Some things, like sweetening the same food more and more, don't have marginal costs and so become superstimuli, but I think most people are already aware that these are dangerous, for reasons beyond maximizing pleasure.

Some of the things you listed are different: people chase some dreams not to maximize fun, but for success, prestige, money, and other values. These things follow different reward curves than fun; for instance money can be invested and has increasing marginal returns, not diminishing ones.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-01-01T15:11:44.367Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The difference from your formulation is that you wouldn't fast to reset the reward value of tasty food; you just consider the opportunity cost of buying and preparing especially tasty food, and then don't do it as much because you invest in other stuff instead.

Yeah, I agree. Though searching for variety can also be the kind of trap I described.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2015-01-01T17:02:48.718Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But does he necessarily have more pleasure in total? How do you know?

You can test both approaches on your own happiness.

comment by DanArmak · 2015-01-01T17:58:15.458Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I'm previously used to eating a lot of tasty food, and then switch to eating mostly bland food and occasionally enjoying some really tasty treat, there would be a lot of confounders compared to someone who was never as used to eating lots of sweets all the time.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-01T22:04:54.330Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What would actually happen is that every drop of sugar would start tasting much sweeter, you'd begin to find the flavour even in bland food, and all the sugary stuff you used to eat would become too sweet to stomach (at least for the first few bites, after which your old "sugar addiction" would relapse).

Lately I've been alternately on-sugar/off-sugar. A couple of months ago I accidentally into a low-carb diet (I never really planned to avoid carbs specifically, it just turned out that a healthy diet doesn't have many carbs in it), and the sweetest thing I used to eat was (very) dark chocolate, with 11% saccharides. I was eating about 20g/day of it, and every crumb tasted like sugary heaven. Then some well-meaning relatives came by with some homemade cookies that I just didn't feel like resisting anymore (my appetite started leaning away from meat & veggies and towards carbs). A few days into that habit, I turn to the dark chocolate I had left. I was surprised to see how bitter it began tasting, and stopped eating carbs again just so that I could feel the sweetness in it.

Remember adaptation. (This actually draws a nice parallel to the topic of happiness even though the specific mechanisms here are of blood sugar and insulin.)

comment by DanArmak · 2015-01-02T11:40:00.473Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Everything you say is true, but doesn't seem to contradict my point (if that's what you intended).

What I meant was that while I would likely experience qualitatively similar patterns of happiness to someone who never ate much sugar, I wouldn't know how my experience compared quantitatively, and that's important when measuring 'greatest sum of pleasure'.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-01-01T19:54:54.247Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Overpaying for happiness?

Yes we are. Not only on an individual level but as societies too. See e.g. Happy Planet Index for some comparison of countries by the average amount of happiness per consumption.

People who live in developed Western countries usually make and spend much more money than people in poorer countries, but aren't that much happier.

Indeed. The index above shows not exactly the opposite but that there are poorer countries that are happier than lots of devloped nations.

I agree with your assessment and would even add that our 'progress' has caused lots of Unfriendly Natural Intelligence that doesn't really maximize our values.