Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Economists often talk about utility in the sense of trying to understand how much a person prefers one thing to another. For example, I have higher utility when I eat a tart apple (which I love) than when I eat a mushy apple (which I do not like). Because utility is measuring a set of preferences within an individual, one cannot compare utilities across individuals. How much happiness I get out of something cannot be compared with how much happiness you get out of something. It's just not measurable.

In another light, one could simply think about how another person's happiness cannot diminish my own happiness (there is no known set of happiness that we all draw from, and when it's used up, it's gone). Think about that for a minute. There is enough happiness for everyone.

Having children can be a great reminder of this. The first crocus spotted by Helen at Lubber Run park brings shrieks of joy, and each wave of this growing season has washed in more excitement. The snow drops defy the snow that is falling. The daffodils march right through the dirt and pop out right on schedule, even as cold days threaten. In fact, it seems like only the cherry blossoms are hanging onto their winter rest right now - but that'll change in the coming days. These, too, will make Helen laugh when she's sees them. Her happiness just grows and grows. It's like she knows what so many of us are striving to learn - that there is enough happiness for everyone. And, the crocus she spotted will be magical to the next spotter. That spotter's find is not diminished by the first spotter's find, just as the magic Helen felt was not diminshed by an earlier hiker in the park.

This year, I'm working hard to live in this moment. What I have learned so far, is that it means I have given up jealousy. There is no need for it, after all. It is not even possible to compare my utility and your utility. The things you have will make you happy, and I still have all the things I need for my own happiness. On top of that, I am happy for your happiness.

It's actually easy to give up jealousy. The harder job is teaching Helen and Connor about utility. It's not fair and accusations of one child being treated better than another abound. And so I tell them the parable again - about the workers who came last getting paid the same as the workers who came first. It's not fair isn't the way to look at it at all. Each worker was given exactly what they were promised. If some worked less, it doesn't matter. It didn't change at all the first worker receiving exactly what they were promised.

I have never been so free, or happy. Join me.


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