“Archaic Torso of Apollo.”
changing your life is a big deal. It takes a lot of work and emotional energy. And it’s often very difficult to predict if a dramatic turn will actually make us happier and more fulfilled, or if it will be the biggest mistake ever and we’ll shrivel up into little raisins of regret.
Date: 7/25/2022 2:19:25 AM ( 70 d ) ... viewed 210 times
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An Economist’s Rule for Making Tough Life Decisions
"Whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change."
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“You must change your life,” Rainer Maria Rilke exhorts readers in the final line of his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”
It’s a surprise-twist ending, meant to capture the sudden nature of epiphanies. Having spent the entire poem contemplating the beauty of an ancient Greek statue, Rilke practically reaches through the page to shake readers by the shoulders, urging us to transform ourselves—to use our rapidly-dwindling time on Earth as wisely as Apollo’s sculptor did.
But changing your life is a big deal. It takes a lot of work and emotional energy. And it’s often very difficult to predict if a dramatic turn will actually make us happier and more fulfilled, or if it will be the biggest mistake ever and we’ll shrivel up into little raisins of regret.
So we waffle over whether or not to quit a job, change careers, start a business, or go back to school, weighing endless pros and cons. In behavioral economics, this phenomenon is known as status quo bias. People are generally predisposed to favor sticking with their current circumstances, whatever they may be, instead of taking a risk and bushwhacking their way toward a different life.
That’s an instinct we should fight against, according to the findings of a new study by Steven Levitt, University of Chicago economist and Reaganomics co-author, published in Oxford University’s Review of Economic Studies.
The study asked people who were having a hard time making a decision to participate in a randomized digital coin toss on the website FreakonomicsExperiments.com. People asked questions ranging from “Should I quit my job?” to “Should I break up with my significant other?” and “Should I go back to school?” Heads meant they should take action. Tails, they stuck with the status quo.
Ultimately, 20,000 coins were flipped—and people who got heads and made a big change reported being significantly happier than they were before, both two months and six months later.
“The data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting,” Levitt said in a press release. “A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo.”
Do more quitting may sound like strange advice in the midst of a pandemic that’s mauling the labor market. Those lucky enough to still have a stable income and health insurance may be quite sensibly wary of jettisoning those things for the great unknown.
But dig a little deeper, and Levitt’s suggested rule of thumb for decision-making turns out to be decidedly evergreen, and may even have added significance in current upheavals of the Covid-19 era. We’re biased toward upholding the status quo, but it’s a bias that hurts us.
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