Happiness ... it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

~ Vincent van Gogh ~

Happiness And Diminishing Returns

January 7th, 2014 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 6 secs

Happiness has its limits

Happiness has its limits

Having enough to be happy doesn’t take much. Add anything more to that, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

Economists like laws, rules, and models to prove what they do. Some of these concepts can apply elsewhere too, like your happiness.

At some point having more really is less as time spent earning money to get things, choose well, and then look after it, eats into your freedom to do other stuff. The pleasure of living with items of quality might appear additive. But in reality, there’s a threshold. Beyond it, the amount it takes to derive any pleasure benefit gets greater as delight declines.

It’s kind of like booking a hotel room. At the bottom end, you get to hand feed the roaches in your bed and memorize the train timetable as each one rolls by on the other side of the wall.

Go up the scale and the sheets are clean, mattress is comfy, and everything works. Pay some more and you get a bigger bed, wider room, and a servile room attendant. Keep paying more and you’ll get gold-plated taps, wider towels, a pillow menu (Like who wants to chew on duck down?), plush rugs, and so on and even more.

But, unless you happen to be a hotel room groupie, chances are the rising cost of room rates will surpass the pleasure factor pretty quickly. Why? Because you’ve got other things to do than rubberneck at the shiny toilet roll holder (okay, I did that once), or eat your meals off that “oh so pristine” floor (I didn’t but it did cross my mind).

Now I know the balance between happiness and the effort varies enormously from person to person and even moment to moment. For instance, when you are tired, the effort to go up yet one more aisle to get that super-duper cereal with more fibre than a cardboard box, is surely just a shopping trolley trip too far.

Then again, on other occasions, we willingly volunteer to do the equivalent of carrying the packs to the summit for the next Everest expedition. Just because we get caught up in the thrill of it all. Given, that’s the kind of quirky stuff we do as human beings, it’s wise to have insight into this strange side of our behavior.

Most often, we can apply some of our own advice to others by learning when enough really is too much. By letting go of the need to impress anyone else, or the desire to pursue pleasures beyond reason or meaning, life already feels better.

The pursuit of an even bigger kitchen, fancier car, or means to increase prestige leads us further and further along a road of diminishing returns. Going down that way inevitably results in us ending up with armfuls of stuff but losing so much that would actually make us happy.

That’s the paradox of happiness. Pleasure seeking itself will never be enough.

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