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My Life will be Good When …

Summary:
As a simplification, in economic theory one often writes utility as a function of market consumption and leisure. Following Gary Becker, one also might add in other arguments such as the quality of one’s relationships. (See for example Gary Becker’s book A Treatise on the Family.) But it is very easy to have an excellent situation in one’s outward circumstances, yet to totally spoil your enjoyment of that situation by unfavorably contrasting your actual situation with some imagined better situation and then directing mental barbs at one’s actual situation. I’ll bet there is often an edge—or a dangerously sharp point—to the thought “My life will be good when ….”Conversely, though it might be hard to understand, there are people whose outward circumstances look miserable who wring a

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As a simplification, in economic theory one often writes utility as a function of market consumption and leisure. Following Gary Becker, one also might add in other arguments such as the quality of one’s relationships. (See for example Gary Becker’s book A Treatise on the Family.) But it is very easy to have an excellent situation in one’s outward circumstances, yet to totally spoil your enjoyment of that situation by unfavorably contrasting your actual situation with some imagined better situation and then directing mental barbs at one’s actual situation. I’ll bet there is often an edge—or a dangerously sharp point—to the thought “My life will be good when ….”

Conversely, though it might be hard to understand, there are people whose outward circumstances look miserable who wring a surprising amount of enjoyment out of those circumstances. Often, their hearts of full of gratitude in a situation where it appears they have much to curse.

There is a lot of mileage to understanding the ways in which it is possible to spoil our enjoyment of outwardly good circumstances—or alternatively, gain surprisingly robust enjoyment out of outwardly bad circumstances. Lauren Alaina’s video “Getting Good” gives some hint of how to do that. (I recommend it; you can click on video at the top of this post to hear it.) My series of posts on “Positive Mental Health” gives additional hints. (All of this applies powerfully even to the subset of people who have no clinically defined mental ailments.)

I want to insist that this is a big deal; the production function for happiness has what initially looks like a mysterious X-factor beyond outward circumstances. If we don’t understand that X-factor, we don’t understand happiness.

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Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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