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Money Can Buy Happiness (in variable and diminishing quantities)


Brent Donnelly is a senior risk-taker and FX market maker, and has been trading foreign exchange since 1995. His latest book, Alpha Trader, was published last summer to great acclaim (by me, among others!) and can be found at your favorite bookseller. I think it’s an outstanding read, and not just for professional traders.

You can contact Brent at his new gig at [email protected]spectramarkets.com and on Twitter at @donnelly_brent. Also, check out his substacks at https://50in50.substack.com/ and https://mtcbd.substack.com/.

As with all of our guest contributors, Brent’s post may not represent the views of Epsilon Theory or Second Foundation Partners, and should not be construed as advice to purchase or sell any security.



I grew up in a home where money was not plentiful. There was enough money to pay the bills but going out for dinner meant Ponderosa or Frank Vetere’s, and family holidays involved lots of driving and Super 8 motels. Sometimes my mom had to say “no” to a school field trip because it was too expensive. That kind of thing. My early experiences with scarcity (and exposure to financial abundance later in my childhood) are an important part of the adult I am today.

I recently came across some research by Matthew Killingsworth of Wharton which pushes back against conventional wisdom about money vs. happiness. You can read the full paper here. Or a brief summary article here. Here is the abstract:


What is the relationship between money and well-being? Research distinguishes between two forms of well-being: people’s feelings during the moments of life (experienced well-being) and people’s evaluation of their lives when they pause and reflect (evaluative well-being). Drawing on 1,725,994 experience-sampling reports from 33,391 employed US adults, the results show that both experienced and evaluative well-being increased linearly with log(income), with an equally steep slope for higher earners as for lower earners.

There was no evidence for an experienced well-being plateau above $75,000/y, contrary to some influential past research. There was also no evidence of an income threshold at which experienced and evaluative well-being diverged, suggesting that higher incomes are associated with both feeling better day-to-day and being more satisfied with life overall.

Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year (Killingsworth, 2021)

Now first of all, the $75,000 number referenced is from a study done in 2010. The inflation-adjusted number would be closer to $100,000. The study (by Kahneman and Deaton) is here. It’s good; definitely worth a read. The Kahneman / Deaton money vs. happiness curve looks like this:


Killingsworth’s key differential point is that the money vs. happiness curve does not flatten out (using log x-axis). There is nuance in the two studies, but the two charts tell the main story. Here is Killingsworth’s chart:


Mean levels of experienced well-being (real-time feeling reports on a good–bad continuum) and evaluative well-being (overall life satisfaction) for each income band. Income axis is log transformed. Figure includes only data from people who completed both measures.
Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year (Killingsworth, 2021)

Note that both charts use log for the x-axis; increased income has a diminishing impact on happiness. This is all superficially interesting and maybe it’s useful to know the aggregate or average relationship between money and happiness within a country or society. On the other hand, I think this is a bit like when you put one foot in a freezing cold bucket of water and one foot in a boiling hot bucket of water and take the average. Sometimes averages don’t mean much.

The only thing that matters to me or to you is the shape of our personal money/happiness curve in isolation. The shape and slope of an individual’s money/happiness curve is determined by many factors including the person’s ambition, values, and morality, plus their cost of living, social status, number of children, and so on. The aggregate curves don’t matter much or mean much at all.

I have always been interested in the empirical relationship between money and happiness because I think it’s a topic that is underexamined in a world where we are pathologically driven towards overconsumption by various societal forces. With advertising, societal norms, social media, consumer culture, and even friends and family often pushing us to “succeed” in ways measured on a financial scoreboard, it’s important for each individual to understand the shape of their own money/happiness curve and pursue what they want, not what society says they want.

North American society in the 1980s was blatantly materialistic and few asked “how much is enough?”

Restraint and anti-consumerism are more in the zeitgeist now as the world is less materialistic than it was back when I was growing up. The 80s were a time when debaucherous, over-the-top hair bands like RATT and Mötley Crüe were Top 10 radio, Gordon Gekko was an idol, and bumper stickers and front plates like this one were displayed unironically.

A tactic that can help you survive the still-relentless onslaught of advertising and its worrisome ability to plant pointless desires in your subconscious mind, is to spend time thinking about the shape of your personal money/happiness curve. This will help you stay off the hedonic treadmill that makes us instinctively strive for more and more money. From Wikipedia:

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971). The hedonic treadmill viewpoint suggests that wealth does not increase the level of happiness. Subjective well-being might be largely determined by genetics; that is, happiness may be a heritable trait.


How money has shaped my life

I grew up in a lower middle-class family, in the second house from the top in this row of five attached houses.

We had enough money to live normally and not worry about cash but when there was a school trip to Europe or whatever… No chance. There was no extra money, just the necessary amount.

Meanwhile, my godparents successfully created and sold an advertising agency and retired when they were 40 years old. They had one child, and to keep her company (she was my age), they used to take me on their two-week-long trips to the Caribbean every March. While flying to the Caribbean in 2022 is a mainstream, middle-class activity for many, it was the height of luxury in the 1980s. Average families weren’t whipping off to the DR back then [1] . I got to see a whole different world of opportunity and awesomeness. “I want that!” I thought.

A fridge with a button you can press to get water!??! I want that!

A basketball hoop and net, right on your driveway? I want that!

The goal was to get out of suburban Ottawa and into something exciting and new and that had a huge influence on me as I viewed money as a key that could unlock freedom and novelty. The dream of big Wall Street money kept the fire in my belly all through high school and university. My high school years were the days of Gordon Gekko and Wall Street (the movie) and after I read Liar’s Poker cover-to-cover at age 15, I knew what I wanted to do. My one and only goal was to become a trader on Wall Street [2] .

I had a crystal-clear and laser-focused motivation: money. That singular focus was good.

However, as I matured [cough cough] and built a decent life for myself and my family, money became less important. There is a minimum level everyone must reach before they can stop worrying about money. Above that amount, the correlation between money and happiness drops off. For most people, it flatlines at some point. For me, that point is not all that far up the y-axis.

The key question to answer clearly and honestly is: What does your money/happiness curve look like? Is it curved or linear? Does it flatline somewhere? If so, where? [3]

The naïve and single-minded pursuit of a high-paying job when I was young made my life pretty simple. I had one clear goal and all I had to do was work towards it. The weird thing about dreams though, is that once you achieve them, there is a hole where that dream used to be. For many, including me, achieving a dream can produce a fleeting sense of elation followed by a deeper existential vertigo as the thing that was pushing you forward all those years slips away into the void. All that’s left is a feeling of: now what?

By the time I hit my 30s, I had a good sense of my money/happiness curve, and I could see that it got flat, fast. I realized that any increase in money would not give me much new freedom or happiness and I hit a bit of an existential wall. My motivation was no longer clear or obvious. I still sometimes have tricky thoughts about what I’m doing here still trading at age 49 when there are so many other interesting things to do out there in the world. My early-life focus on money meant I needed to find new reasons to trade as I got older.

After looking inward and thinking about things for a few years, I grew into a new set of motivations.

  • I love trading. I enjoy going to work every day. Going into an office where I enjoy what I do, I like the people I work with, and I respect the management I report to, have been the most important drivers of my professional happiness over the years. The constantly evolving macro picture and the ever-changing market regimes and nearly impossibly complicated process of trying to solve the market is enjoyable. If you enjoy coming into work each day, the money doesn’t matter as much. No job is fun all the time, but if trading isn’t fun most of the time, you’re not doing it right.
  • I want to publish my writing. One of my favorite things to do is write about finance and markets. Working at a credible financial institution like Spectra and writing AM/FX every day is the best way for me to do that. Again, intellectual stimulation before money.
  • I want to maintain my current level of financial success but do not particularly aspire to anything more than what I have now, financially. The idea of getting super rich does not make my heart beat faster. I plan to be thankful and keep doing what I do until the day they tap me on the shoulder or the day I don’t love it anymore. Until then, I am grateful for the job I have, and I don’t need to dream of making 10X what I’m making now. I know that will not make me happier.

Don’t be one of those people that just always wants more. That will put you on the hedonic treadmill, running towards a meaningless goal that is forever out of reach. Be thoughtful about what kind of money you need to do what you want to do and aim there. Don’t keep moving the goalposts. More money is not always the answer. In fact, more money is often not the answer, unless you are struggling to pay rent or cannot afford to pursue specific, costly passions like travel or owning a boat.

Now, let’s bring this all back to trading.


Ill-gotten gains? How money morals matter in trading

I just found a million dollars that someone forgot
It's days like this that push me o'er the brink
Guns ‘n Roses, Pretty Tied Up, 1991

So far, this piece is about the broader question of money vs. happiness. Now, let’s connect the dots to trading.

Think about your history (childhood and young adult years especially) and how it might influence your trading performance. For example: if your dad was an electrician and your mom was an entrepreneur… Your subconscious might have trouble with the idea that in trading you magically pull money out of thin air without any traditional hard work and without producing or creating anything [4] . You might find your subconscious repeatedly sabotages you in an effort to divest what it perceives as ill-gotten gains.

Many traders from blue-collar families struggle with this when they first find success. It is a strange and sometimes surreal feeling to generate huge income without producing anything. Trading is not the only job where this is the case, but the sometimes sudden and gigantic income streams from trading make it different from most other professions.

Believe it or not, there is more to life than trading. Think about the long game and your entire career. While it is fun to trade all night and live a fast and exciting life, you cannot do that forever. Trading on its own does not offer a path to happiness, no matter how much money you rake in. Financial freedom is one facet of happiness. Most research shows true happiness comes from: Health, relationships, family, friends, and a feeling of purpose.

While it might feel like your P&L ups and down are a matter of life and death—they are not. Traders spend way too much time thinking about P&L and money and all the things it might mean to them. Focus on trading when you are at work and focus on relationships and activities you love when you are not.

A life of trading is a life full of hills and valleys. Every time you lose more money than you ever have before, it hurts. Right in the gut. And every time you make a new “best day” or hit your lifetime high water mark, there is a giddy sensation that is hard to regulate. If you are a good trader, you will trade with more and more capital and bigger positions as the years go by and therefore by definition your biggest up and down days will get bigger and bigger over time.

Some traders (including me until about 6 or 7 years ago) are afraid to feel happy after a great day or a great trade because they don’t want to jinx themselves. This creates an asymmetry where you feel bad after the bad days, but you don’t give yourself permission to feel good after good days. Over the years, this can be incredibly draining because you only let yourself feel the bad emotions.

If you have a good day, feel good about it. Be happy. Go celebrate. Order the Château d’Yquem. But don’t celebrate until you have taken profit! Celebrating while in a winning position is a recipe for disaster. Take profit, then go be happy.

As time goes on, you should be able to figure out how to manage your emotions so that while your P&L is making higher highs, your emotions become less volatile. You recognize after a while that no matter how bad the day, or how bad the loss, you don’t die. It might feel like you are going to die, but you don’t. The only way to learn this is to experience mind-numbing losses. As my boss once told me after a particularly bad day of trading: You don’t learn anything when you win. Every loss is a lesson.

Always remember …  hills and valleys. Hills and valleys. Don’t let yourself get too high or too low. Regardless of your P&L, the sun will still rise tomorrow, your kids will still love you and even in the most extreme situation where you end up losing your job as a trader, life STILL goes on.

At the end of the day … it’s only money.

good luck ⇅ be nimble


[1] Dominican Republic tourist arrivals today are around twenty times what they were in the early 1980s.

[2] Not exactly true as I wanted most to be a major league infielder. But that was more of a dream than a real goal. I didn’t work hard enough or lift weights or do the things necessary to become a professional baseball player. On the other hand, I did do everything possible to become a trader. I still remember a Lehman Brothers recruitment brochure from 1993 that featured this Q&A with a senior trader: “Q: Why did you decide to work at Lehman Brothers? A: Because I wasn’t good enough to play for the New York Yankees.”

[3] Some people also have hump-shaped money/happiness curves.

[4]Sounds a lot like MMT.  :U



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Comments

  1. @BrentDonnelly1 Really loved this piece. Spoke to me on so many levels. Early on in my career I was lucky enough to read the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz and learnt about the Hedonic Treadmill.

    Great work, thanks for putting it out there!

  2. Great article. Self-awareness is often undervalued, but you more than excel in that area.

    I think you may have overlooked reporting on one critical but likely relevant fact.

    Weather.

    Ottawa is regularly -40 in the winter. Doesn’t matter if you measure in C or F. I lived there for 10 years. And my burning desire was always: have to get out to some place more welcoming to the human condition, meaning any place closer to the equator that to the North Pole. Perhaps a contributing factor to your initial motivation to be a trader was finding ANY source of funding that would allow you to escape from the inhospitable winter environment in Ottawa. Even NYC is an upgrade.

  3. Avatar for robh robh says:

    You are only as happy as your most unhappy child.

  4. The problem with evaluating your ‘success/happiness’ using a money ruler is that then you will likely evaluate others based on a money ruler. This is an inescapable side effect of money rulers, and so every interaction with others has the risk of becoming money rulerness. (These evaluations were typical in the primogeniture phase of the UK.) I suspect that, perhaps, then almost no one is immune from unhappiness when using moneyness. And perhaps those not unhappy with abundant moneys must be condemned to endless currency concerns?

  5. Fantastic article. Really captured much of my life as a trader. Money can buy comfort, it cannot buy happiness, which ultimately is a function of a relaxed and content state of mind. Thank you🙏

  6. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    @BrentDonnelly1 Excellent piece, and wow, do I relate with the first paragraph. My experience was very similar, I never went hungry but there were no ‘extra’ funds. I knew as by osmosis not to even ask about “expensive” field trips.

    Thank you for introducing the concept of the hedonic treadmill, I had never heard that phrase before, but it’s something I intrinsically feel to be true.

    I think the best piece I’ve ever read about money is this blog post by Dave Winer (who I keep bringing up, but he’s such a great thinker imo, and also very formidable in technology, as a founder of blogging, RSS, and podcasting):
    http://scripting.com/davenet/2000/10/19/transcendentalMoney.html

    I can’t speak as much to the trading part of the piece since I’m the George Costanza of investing (whatever I do, do the opposite!) – but I found it to be a great companion to Ben’s “Winner’s Tilt” post (or vice versa).

    Thanks for this!

  7. Hi Ben - great article, even for a non-trader. I find it very coincidental that our bible study last night centered around Hebrews 13:5 "Keep yourself free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Spirited discussion from the teens in the class: what constitutes the love of money? How can we be content when we don’t have enough of it? In response, one adult answered with this question - should we love money & use people, or should we use money & love people? A discussion for another day. Looking within is always a good thing, regardless of what we find. I’m leaning more & more to the prospect that happiness is a skill that some people never develop…

  8. LOVE this question. I’m mentally sorting a bunch of people in my head right now!

  9. For all of you who have never heard of the hedonic treadmill, might I recommend:
    image

    This was a book that found me at a receptive time.

  10. And happiness too swiftly flies?
    Thought would destroy their Paradise.
    No more;-where ignorance is bliss,
    'Tis folly to be wise.

    A thorough treatise on happiness must include a discussion on cognitive range.
    Would a condemned criminal really enjoy their last meal, if it was expensive (Michelin-star chef) enough?

  11. The Hedonic Treadmill is such a good combo phrase. The Landfill Economy is another. They are related (but opposite in tone). The Hedonic Treadmill requires the Landfill Economy. These excesses (of the Boomers) will not persist for much longer.

  12. In 2005, a friend who studied under Schwartz at Swarthmore took me to a Schwartz lecture promoting the Paradox of Choice. I remember it quite vividly for several reasons. One was that my confirmation bias was firing on all cylinders. As a self-avowed “satisfizer”, I embraced Schwartz’s conclusions that promised me a happier life. Aside from that, the mundane examples he used — choosing jeans or Hi Fi systems — rang true and made for a consistent if simplistic model. I’m sure I’ve annoyed more than one person with Barry Schwartzish ruminations on good enough.

    Since then, I’ve done a 180 from the satisfizer philosophy and now see it more as a secular problem. It may be a recipe for contentment in a Fukuyama world, but it’s also a recipe for conformity, mediocrity, and just an overall lameness of life. Sure, I’d probably prefer to smoke pot with a handful of sharp-witted satifizers… But for all the “there’s more to life than that” things, I want to find the maximizing disruptors who are eternally hungry for more.

  13. I have found that being comfortable with satisfactory along a number of axis in my life allows me to be a disruptor on the things that matters.

  14. This sounds like a legitimate defense of prioritization. Whereas The Paradox of Choice was more a defense of wholesale mediocrity.

  15. “wholesale mediocrity”
    I wanted to like this post because my grandfather from Poland was Anatole, but I have a problem with the concept of mediocrity. I certainly understand the idea of meritocracy, but ‘mediocrity’ is so judgmental, I could not help but think of my financialization friends in the Upper East Side, always about the special Amish butter or the labels on their most recent consumption. NGMI !

  16. It can buy Golden Retreivers. Have you ever seen a Golden owner unhappy?

  17. I disagree. I think the Paradox of Choice was about not letting other people set the bar for you. For understanding the difference between “the best” as other people want you to see it and what is actually good enough for you personally.

    The “best” is an elusive concept and one that is very much prey to the 80/20 rule. To get to the best you have to put in that 80% of effort to get that last 20% and since people keep moving the bar on “the best” its an exponential nightmare.

    It is why Peloton is wrong in saying that they can raise the price because they are delivering “tons of content” and “premium service”. Yeah - except you are adding a ton of shit that no one needs that is gilding the lily and not adding substance.

    It is why I cancelled Typeform despite them offering “terrific value for the price” because it was a useful tool during Covid but its now so bloated with “premium” features that its getting harder and harder to use.

    It is why its so hard to convert people from free tier to premium tiers in SaaS models. Because by and large most people find that they don’t need the best, they just need to get on with their lives and get the job done.

    When you call our ambulance corps - you are not going to reliably get one of the “best” EMTS out there, but you will reliably get a reasonably competent one who knows how to quickly get you to the hospital without killing you.

    The “best” is a language trap, y’all.

  18. And, as you point out when the firm does overkill additional features trying to be the “best” they lose customers who get annoyed that they have to keep relearning/retooling all the extra features.

    Saw this at work endlessly.
    “New system coming in, going to make you so much more productive”
    “But I just got the old system down pat and am now getting some productivity out of it”
    move to new system and productivity drops while retooling.

  19. I think you’re correct in calling my comment judgemental. It was meant to be judgemental. Not so much in the consumerist sense… but it’s hard to distinguish what is consumerist and what is not. What’s wrong with judgemental anyway?

    I think that these times are becoming defined by a tyranny of mediocrity (the long now?). Meanwhile, the Stephen Pinkers are right. Today’s mediocrity, in aggregate, is better than anything else we’ve ever had. Same as your investment advisor is right that the market always goes up. But better than ever doesn’t mean that it’s good (or that it’s sustainable).

    Facing the tyranny of mediocrity are the haters and the optimists. The judgemental haters just complain about the status quo. The judgemental optimists at least try to forge new, alternative paths. The tyranny is annoyed by the former, but absolutely detests the latter. And it’s right to do so. Because the latter want to shove the tyranny’s failures down its throat.

    This morning I went for a jogn’chat with a friend. During our conversation, I was lamenting that these days I can’t say the statement “I want to develop better people” without being called a judgemental Nazi. My friend, who’s a much less antagonistic person, could relate in his own way. His example was coding classes. He’s teaching his brother to code and auditing some coding classes from a variety of institutions including Harvard. He finds them all to be deeply lacking to say the least. But he feels that he can’t say that, because he doesn’t want to be seen as insulting those who have completed the courses.

    It’s a bit of a bizarro world where wanting to make things better is met with an unnamed, negative force. As I’m writing this, the whole MAGA slogan comes into new light. I’ve made fun of it as moronic, like many others… but now I find myself on similar footing. The status quo has become so complacent, so protective of our mediocrity, that it effectively banned innovation.

    For all the focus on the toxicity of “polarization”, I think that the “never negativization” is a more dangerous trend.

    I’ve been increasingly coming across the “good ideas are getting harder to find” argument. I think it’s one of the main symptoms of the tyranny of mediocrity. “We’ve made it guys. We’ve figured it all out!” To me this seems massively pessimistic and bleak.

    So what is the converse? For me, it’s: everything sucks. “Everything sucks” is a mine of optimism. Because if everything sucks, there’s so much of “better” around the corner. A few hundred years ago all medicine sucked. All doctors sucked. Yes, people were trying to practice medicine for millennia, but they still sucked. And look at what fertile ground all that suckage proved to be over the last few hundred years.

    Today, there’s plenty that’s analogous to medicine in the dark ages. But am I allowed to name these things? Suggest these things? No. I will be banished if I do. Everything sucks is pure judgemental, isn’t it?

    On the one hand, you related my comments on mediocrity to snobbism about butter. And my first reaction is to say, “no, I meant it about big, important things, like parenting and cognitive development”. But I have a feeling that if you thought I was an asshole for being judgemental about butter, you’ll think that I’m a monster if I’m judgemental about how people choose to parent their kids.

    Perhaps Schwartz was right within a narrow definition of consumerism. Too much choice = diminishing returns. No duh. “Good enough” versus “the best” in such a case means that good enough is the equilibrium. But then his model still just reinforces the tyranny of mediocrity, because it has “good enough”, it has “best”, but it lacks “better”.

    “Better” is the thing that’s outside the system, waiting to be discovered/developed. Instead, Schwartz assumes Fukuyama - that there’s no better – all the good ideas are used up.

    Incidentally, I think this is why I reacted against Ben’s “old stories” narrative. Because it’s giving up on the future.

  20. On the innovation tip, space tourism springs to mind as an example of “better”.

    Telling the stories about the outrageous parties in space, to awestruck audiences, who are mighty impressed with the intrigue of avoiding the aftermath of zero G and way too much alcohol.

    Are you ready for it?

    Whilst worrying about keeping the lights on. It is a peculiar mixture of emotions.
    ‘Better’ is something that needs moral accordance. Without approval in the common knowledge realm, it is ‘worse’.

  21. The future is an illusion. An old story that is used to soothe your anxiety about the present. It is how I sell you sacrifice and how the long now is perpetuated. The future is simply prisons we build in our mind that take us away from today. There is only now.

    You treat “better” as an absolute. You define better as “not here yet”. You don’t allow for the -possibility that Schwartz’s way of looking at the world might be perfectly suited to some, and not others.

    Having judgment about life is essential. Not in the “I judge you good/bad” sense. More in the sense of making thoughtful choices about things that matter. We all need to decide what works for each of us while we remember that what might be good for you may not be good for me.

    I share this perspective with you not because it is the absolute path for everybody, but because it has been the path which has freed my mind and let me see the system in a different light. i woke up and realized that it is not the system that victimizes me, it is me that is willingly become a victim of the system in an effort to soothe my anxiety about the present.

  22. I say there is a future. You say the future is an illusion. I’m going to wager that over a couple of beers we’d find that we’re likely saying the same thing.

    I treat “better” (sometimes I use “awesome”) as an opening to a conversation that nobody seems to be interested in having. My fantasy is that the first response is “Could you define “better””? But that rarely happens. More standard response is “who the hell are you to say what’s better?” or “way smarter people than you haven’t thought of better, and you think you’re the one…”, etc. And that’s fine… it’s a functional enough filter, however depressing.

    “Better” is not absolute. “Better” suggests hierarchies. Hierarchies are anathema to today’s zeitgeist. But whether we like it or not, hierarchies do exist. We have better pianists and footballers; better mathematicians and chefs; better fathers and better friends. While the hierarchies and the aptitude taxonomies that underlie these categories of abilities can be more or less linear, more or less complex, and more or less known — it is a fact that they do exist.

    There are nearly 8 billion people in the world. On the one hand, you’re right. Not a single one of these 8 billion needs the exact cocktail that’s “good for me”. Some need Amish butter. Others resent Amish butter. Some are trying to keep the lights on. Others are private equity bros who say things like “Dude, I’m just trying to keep the lights on.” I don’t know which is which and who is who. And I don’t care. Because the conversation about “better” is not about me and it’s not about any one of them.

    Imagine being a rationalist in the 1700s. As a rationalist, it would have been reasonable to try to ban doctors from practicing medicine. Blood-letting, superstitious cures, maximal risks of infection… That rationalist would have been wrong, right? What was required to look past the dismal reality and search for answers in the science? It wasn’t because it was good for anybody at the time. It was because of a thirst for knowledge and a thirst for better. Better science, better understanding, etc.

    Framing the conversation within “what works for each of us” kills the conversation. It suffocates it in a tiny box of incrementalism. It doesn’t even let us move towards first principles (old stories?) thinking.

    Maybe it’s time to be talking about some absolute paths. I’m not talking about their Absolute Paths TM. I’m talking about taking some risks and charting some new absolute paths - even if hypothetically. Instead, we’re forever negotiating “what might be good for you may not be good for me”. Hey! Paul Atreides! Fear is not the mind killer. This is.

  23. So, actually, I really do think there is only now. I don’t believe in the future or in the past other than as abstractions and ideas that I have come up with to try and make sense of living.

    Hierarchies, organizational structures, crystal formations, tree trunks becoming branches becoming twigs becoming leaves, patterns are everywhere. I don’t just see them - I love them. Its life being itself. I just don’t believe in dominant patterns or best patterns or absolute ideas. It’s all relative for me.

    I can’t imagine being a rationalist in the 1700. The 1700s, rationalism, the history of medicine are all abstractions and stories from the past that are likely to be extremely incomplete descriptions of what it was like to be in that now. Anything I imagine about that will simply be projections of my own ego into the past.

    I am not trying to convince you that my view point is right or better than yours. I am simply sharing the way I see things in the hopes that it helps you gain perspective on your own way of looking at things. I have rejected absolute and better. They don’t work for me. They seem to work for you. I’m cool with that.

  24. I can relate in that relativism (and the good enough) have always come naturally to me. They were my home for a couple decades. But these days, they don’t scratch the itch. Perhaps it has so something to do with becoming a parent…

  25. Lot of truth there. My daughters are 27 and 29. Both in serious relationships. One about to get married. I spent a lot of time striving for the best for them only to find that whatever I thought was going to be the future turned into a now that looked nothing like it. Also turned out they had a lot of difference of opinion as to what was best for them.

    So I gave up on the best thing. Maybe we are just at different stages in the abstraction we call the journey of life.

  26. Zenzei,

    My daughters are 52 and 54, grandsons are 19, 22, and 25. In the process of ‘striving for the best for them’, I may have learned more about myself than they learned from me. Each of us came of age in different generations.

    May it be, in the words of Maya Angelou, “People won’t always remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

    Jim/Dad

  27. Thank you for the opportunity to reply and not calling out the self-immolating irony of ‘mediocrity is so judgmental’.
    Good, bad, better, worse, best, worst are not words in every language (e.g. Native American). These words have fairly clear meanings when there are metrics. (I would argue that if there are metrics, the negative side effects of the better are usually individualized, whereas the better is a statistical average for the greater good, e.g. vaccines.)
    When there are no metrics, then these words become experiential quantifiers (EQ). Assuming that we are not going to use physical measures such as endorphin blood levels, which can also be altered with better living through chemistry, EQ then express a mental process which requires a certain preset notion of what these words mean: cue marketing, especially marketing directed at children. Do I think marketing at children is about selling?; maybe 20%-ish. I think marketing at children is about grooming future consumers in materialistic cultures. Try going through a day without using EQ in a sentence.
    As far as mediocrity or complacency, both of these words have a judgmental and derogatory aspect (average and lazy, respectively). Every equal set of minutes is exactly the same percent of one’s life. Do we really want to say that some sets are better than others?
    Amish butter is better, ‘because better is better’ (Nexium, an antacid)!

  28. @Victor_K
    Speaking of marketing… Today I was fed a Steve Jobs talk on LinkedIn: Best Marketing Strategy Ever: Steve Jobs Presents "Think Different" - YouTube about Think Different, and on the same day listened to Ben Hunt on a podcast use that same expression (positively) several times.

    Perhaps different is better than better… but still EQ, I’d say.

    My default EQ is awesome, not better. I like awesome because it’s so open ended. There are infinite awesomes in my world view, versus just one best. But still EQ.

    But you bringing up metrics can maybe help. I’m consulting on a data analytics startup, so I’ve been brushing up on the industry. Metrics is kinda the foundation of data science. It’s the past. What has happened? What was bad? What was best? Etc. After metrics comes insights (the now)… what can we learn from the metrics. Then comes predictive analytics… But to borrow from Rusty & Ben, there’s a lack of imagination in metrics. They are certainly useful to illuminate the water in which we swim. They may or may not help in forecasting rapids or a waterfall ahead. But they are quite useless in providing information on what’s happening in other, foreign bodies of water.

    Back to my EQ habit. What am I trying to do? I’m trying to say, "hey, let’s get out of the water for a second. Let’s towel off. Let’s see what else is out there. Or maybe we can dig a new canal or something… A better canal. An awesome canal. A think different canal.

    So, am I calling everybody who remains in the water mediocre and lazy? Yeah, sort of. Should I, instead of using EQ, dive into the metrics of my alternative canal? I’m not sure. The metrics may not translate into the existing narratives and that communication might be doomed from the get-go. So instead, I’m back to EQ, like the guy on the highway with a Big Arrow sign who’s doing a dance, trying to get you to pull off. Better this way!!! Follow me for awesome!!! Think different is just around the corner.

  29. I appreciate your lofty ideal to make the world a better place! If one knows that the entropy of the Universe is always increasing, locally entropy may be static or even decreasing (extropy as per Terence McKenna), but overall entropy must always increase (second law of thermodynamics). And so we do have a metric: can we minimize the increase in entropy going forward? Is that better?

  30. Speaking of lofty, your entropy allusion went right over my head.

    And a slight correction: I’m not so much trying to make the world a better place, but to make my world a better place — a much more selfish pursuit, though still lofty. And the EQ is so I don’t have to be lonely in my better world — also mostly selfish.

  31. Personally, once I stopped worrying about the consensual hallucination that we call the world and it’s future, and started to be more concerned with my local community and it’s now…I found myself where you aspire to be…my world became a better place and I found a tribe to keep me company.

  32. I guess we didn’t need those beers after all.

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