How to Find More Happiness by Doing More Work

How to Achieve Work/Life Balance

By Matt Alderton

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When it comes to work/life balance, less is more — less work, more happiness — right? Not according to contributor Emily Oster.

"If you asked me which gives me more joy, my work or my family, there is no question that it's my family. Hands down. If I had to give one up, it wouldn’t even be a contest," she says. "And, yet, in a typical workday I spend at least eight hours at my job, sometimes more, and only about three with my family. And, ultimately, I think that's the time split that makes me happiest."

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, argues Oster, who applies the economic principle of "diminishing marginal utility" to happiness. "When I teach this, it's usually in the context of consuming things — say, oranges," she continues. "The first orange you really enjoy, the second is slightly less good, the third you are pretty bored and by the 10th you are quite sick. This works for basically any good you consume: The more of something you already have, the less you want yet another of that same thing. It explains why, for example, you'd probably rather have half oranges and half bananas, rather than all of one or the other."

The same logic works with practically anything, including time with your family and time at work. "Knowing this, how do you divide your time to make yourself as happy as possible?" Oster asks. "It"s simple: The last hour of your time doing each activity should contain equal amounts of happiness. If I spend eight hours at work and three with my daughter, then this is ideal if the eighth hour at work has the same amount of happiness as the third hour with her."

Simply put: Because human beings enjoy things more in smaller doses, the key to happiness might not be more personal time, but less.

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