As an entrepreneur (or as anyone who wants to be successful), you have two important decisions to make about your work habits:
- How many hours should you devote to work activities?
- How much effort should you put in during each of those hours?
Many people have two reasonable-sounding suppositions about a trade-off of work habits:
- If I engage in my work, for example by putting in full mental effort at the appropriate times to make my tasks succeed, I will increase my expected income.
- If I disengage somewhat, for example by cranking some tunes on my headphones while I should to be fully engaged in strategic planning, I will live a happier life: I will increase the number of moments in my life during which I feel happy, and I will have an increased overall life satisfaction.
Number 2, however, is quite misguided. Part of the problem is that, to a large degree, we have a genetic 'set point' for happiness, weakly analogous to the homeostasis mechanisms that stabilize our body temperature and weight despite changes in the environment; and part of the problem is that our intuitions about what make us happy are extremely unreliable.
Any rationalist who cares about their own happiness should familiarize themselves with hedonic psychology, but for now, two broad findings are:
- We are surprisingly bad at intuitively predicting what will make us happy.
- We intuitively overestimate how much a specific change to our life will affect our short-term happiness (Focusing Effect) and overestimate even more how much the change will affect our long-term happiness (Impact Bias).
Again, you should familiarize yourself with the literature, but one minor finding is that having meaningful work is one of the things that can nudge the figures up slightly in terms of your long-term happiness. In contrast, to my knowledge no study has found that being lazy or not caring will increase your overall life satisfaction. (Getting proper sleep does help, but that's a different matter.)
So we see that the tradeoff above is illusory: deciding to become engaged in your work not only improves your career outcomes, but if anything will make you happier in the long run. How to consistently follow through on this decision will be the subject of tomorrow's post.
More reading on hedonic psychology:
- A great executive summary. Note that "Don't equate money with happiness" is a different claim from "Money doesn't matter at all for happiness."
- Adapting to Heart Conditions: A Test of the Hedonic Treadmill
- A nice thick book by Daniel Kahneman, my personal hero.