Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wealth equals richness minus worry

I am not sure if there is anything to this, but bear with me for a minute:

Wealth = richness - worry.

"Richness" is pretty self-explanatory. Traveling in a private jet is richer than traveling in a Greyhound bus.

Eating artisan chocolate is richer than eating Hershey's. Eating fine steak is richer than eating burgers. But eating asparagus can be richer than eating a steak (if you really like asparagus or dislike steak) and eating a Starburst could theoretically be richer than either.
Living in a fancy house is richer than living in a shack. But living in a small house in a city can be richer than living in a big house in the suburbs, and living in a closet in NYC can be richer still.
An hour with a close friend is (usually) richer than an hour with a stranger. An hour with a close friend is usually richer than an hour playing computer games. Playing World of Warcraft is richer than playing Angry Birds. Playing chess (assuming you're actually thinking about it and digging it) is richer than playing crazy eights.

Richness (here synonymous with meaning) happens when your life matches your values.

"Worry" is also self-explanatory, but a little subtler. Worry is anything that makes you think about anything that's not richness.

Money causes worry. This is obvious. When you have to think about money, you are not thinking about the richness in your life.
Transportation causes worry. The fact that you have to get from point A to point B. (there can be richness in your transportation, like if you're riding a bike and you like biking, but the fact that you must do it is a worry.)
Your bank sending you paper statements causes (a tiny bit of) worry, because you have to think about them. Grocery store reward cards cause worry. Policies like "20% off on Tuesdays" cause worry by introducing mental complexity into your model of shopping.

Worry happens when you're forced to expend attention on anything that's not your values.

Corollary: Technology (or indeed, anything) adds wealth to your life if it increases richness or decreases worry.

Cloud storage, for example, is a great technology, because I no longer have to think about which computer I left my files on, or if they're backed up. mp3s are great because music increases richness in my life. Fitbit adds some richness (I love looking at data) and a little worry (I might forget it); so far, it's a net positive.

Corollary #2: False abstractions are plentiful; beware of them, and don't underestimate the worry they cause!

ATMs are great. They work worldwide. However, while I was in Poland, due to my bank getting bought out and them shipping me a new card, I got stranded pretty hard. Not that we have much of a choice to avoid ATMs these days, and the balance is still positive, but a couple days of frustration and inconvenience is not nothing.

Corollary #3: Maybe instead of "wealth", I mean "flourishing" or "happiness" or "the good life?" Which makes this either more or less profound. In a sense, it feels like I've really unlocked something smart here, an evaluation for anything: does this increase richness and/or decrease worry? However, maybe this is a tautology; maybe I've just said "Goodness equals good things minus bad things."

4 comments:

mombat said...

Very intriguing, Dan-
Do you think it is possible to stay in a state of happiness without any stress or worry or want to make you appreciate it?....













Dan Tasse said...

Well, I've been defining my terms however I want, so forgive me if I weasel, but here goes:

Hold on. I'm not interested in staying in a state of happiness. I'm interested in a... flourishing life. (I guess "flourishing" is close to what I was trying to get at by "wealth".)

It is possible to live a flourishing life without worry. By "worry" I mean dumb stuff, I mean stuff that you have to think about but it doesn't add happiness or sadness (or excitement or anger or anything worth experiencing) to your life. Sometimes you get really deeply sad, or really afraid, or really grief-stricken or any number of other negative emotions, but those all really add to your life's richness.

Stress and want can be part of a flourishing life. (they can lead to excitement and panic, desire and disappointment, which are rich emotional states.) Worry, as I've defined it in the original post, is not. Worry is wasting brain cycles, spinning your wheels, dealing with red tape.

Brian said...

I guess I could also ask what you mean by Wealth.

If you're just saying, this is what it means to be wealthy, then sure that's fine.

If this is your recipe for success, I maybe question it. Minimizing worry might be fine, but not all worry is the same. Yeah, don't sweat the small stuff. There's a difference between worrying and planning ahead, and knowing that difference is important.

But I've also known people who can't listen to news about war or watch documentaries about poverty or even listen to This American Life sometimes because it depresses them to know the world is not all sunshine and rainbows. I think sometimes we do need to worry about the big things, because it motivates change and really makes life worth living.

Dan Tasse said...

Well... does worrying help anything? We do need to consider the big things, and think deeply about them, but we tend to spend a lot of time spinning our wheels. (and there's lots of small stuff that causes extra wheel-spinning, and that stuff is often self-inflicted.)

It's possible that I did just mean "wealth", which is just one component of "flourishing"/"a life well lived".