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bird poops on plum branch


Buster Benson

No advice column.

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bird poops on plum branch
Kinds of rewards:
  • endorphins/senses
  • money
  • eternal life
  • appreciation
  • meaning
What am I missing?

A reward can be a property of a thing itself, or an effect of the thing.  For example, the work you do can be the reward, or the reward might be the money you get for the work you do.  Also, perhaps rewards can be layered... maybe you both enjoy the work you do and also enjoy the money you get for the work you do and the appreciation you receive.

A reward in itself is a closed loop, fully complete in itself.  Some rewards are long chains... go to school to get a job, get a job to buy a house, buy a house to start a family, start a family to have someone to take care of you when you're old, etc.

"Finding yourself" is, in a lot of ways, knowing the reward you seek, and knowing why you seek it.

What kinds of things are rewards in themselves, things that don't require a host of other causes and effects to bring about their value?  I think it really depends on how you approach things.  Anything can be used as a means to another end.  But at some point, the means are and end in themselves, right?  The journey and all that. 

It's like driving up to a mountain range in the distance.  You don't have to wait until you get to the mountain before you enjoy the mountain.  You can enjoy it from the road, from different perspectives, along the way.  If you look at the mountain from the road and don't really like it, but think that you'll like it once you get there, you might find out too late that you're wrong.  Because the quality doesn't change so much as the intensity of the quality.  Wow that's abstract.

Enjoying a reward in the moment is a differently paced activity than most of the other things we do in the day.  I feel driven by a desire to be productive most of the time... to walk to GET somewhere, etc.  So, being efficient becomes a mental process that I frequently engage.  But the sense of rushing is directly contradictory to the sense of enjoyment.  The pause that refreshes.

When I'm in the efficiency and productivity mode for too long, pauses aren't enjoyable at all.  They feel claustrophobic, wasteful, anti-productive.  And yet once paused, enjoying, it creates a sense that the efficiency mode is the wasteful one.  They are systems in themselves, with their own reward systems, often contradictory, but also both real and valuable. 

For example, most social interaction happens in effectiveness mode, right?  Communication, interaction, you have to approach this most of the time from the angle of efficiency, otherwise people might feel uncomfortable.  Social interaction alone makes the efficiency mode a necessary part of life.  You can't just abandon that and be a solitary hermit... well, you could, but you wouldn't get to participate in one of the most enjoyable aspects of our existence.  But, also, while in the network of social interaction, it's necessary to slow down and enjoy what exists as a reward in itself occasionally or else that social interaction will become warped and you will lose track of why it's valuable.  And maybe you'll become a sociopath or an attention whore or any number of other dysfunctional warped incarnations of our society.

Not sure what I'm getting at exactly.  And I guess that's the point.  What do you think?  Am I over-simplifying?  Or simplifying just enough?

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I think that the immediate versus delayed part is the most interesting. What is the right balance? Our society preaches that either extreme is undesirable; whether with time or money, being a miser is seen as just as bad as squandering what you have in the moment and not planning for future rewards.

So should we save everything for a blowout fiesta at the end of the year, or should we have a small party every week? Should we buy something today or save the money for tomorrow or next week or next year, just in case?

I sort of think that the immediate versus delayed dichotomy is a misleading metaphor. Rewards can't really be delayed. At least, not predictably. A mountain on the horizon, even though your arrival to it might be delayed, is experienced as a mountain on the horizon in the present and immediate sense. If I work for 50 years in the hopes that I'll be able to enjoy my retirement, part of my retirement reward is the current moment where I am experiencing a model of the reward and it is either enjoyable or it is unenjoyable or it is neutral. In that sense, you are reaping all rewards, both delayed and immediate, in the present moment to whatever extent that they are being positive or negative.

So should we save everything for a blowout fiesta at the end of the year, or should we have a small party every week? Should we buy something today or save the money for tomorrow or next week or next year, just in case?

Though it's counter-intuitive in this context, I think the right way to phrase this question is, what reward am I after with this money and how can I enjoy it? In addition to money, there are rewards in being spontaneous as well as in planning (depending on your personality), in building friendships, and long-term rewards in living the kind of life you want to live, and in knowing who you are. A blowout fiesta can be enjoyed all year round, especially if it requires planning. Small parties can be enjoyed all year round too. So distribution of the reward over time isn't really the question, the question is in what kinds of activities and social interactions you think you will enjoy most.

Not throwing a party is also enjoyable, in its own way. I'm going to enjoy not throwing a NYE party this year, for example. The reward is being able to participate in a different way than I would otherwise. Can't neglect the rewards in doing less.

I find that writing on 43things is a good reward for being efficient and productive, better than chocolate and gold stars, which was my old system. I'm trying to figure out how that particular reward would work in your list. Maybe... Not only am I reminding myself that I've been efficient and productive but I'm telling everyone that I've been a good person and made progress towards my goals. There's also something to methodically noting your progress, since sometimes marking off "go to post office" on a to-do list doesn't sound that important to a larger goal like "find a new job" or "give people fabulous gifts for the holidays", but it may very well be the last link in a chain of to-dos and efforts...

Social status is another reward and it's more complex than just appreciation. For more details, see my dissertation. Maybe in 2010.

Yeah, it does seem more complex, since it can be a placeholder for many other kinds of rewards: power, appreciation, validation, money, security. Looking forward to your dissertation, I'm planning on reading your latest LJ report too... looks very interesting!

I think efficiency is a reward in itself sometimes, just as pausing is a reward in itself sometimes (see Csíkszentmihályi, etc...). And I think (but have nothing to support this because it's unverifiable) it is even without the future potential reward.

But of course there's also the well-supported theory that the harder it is to acquire something, the more the acquirer enjoys it.

Yeah, I think it can be. Generally, it's not the point of efficiency and productivity, it is sometimes a side-effect and an possibly unconscious motivator. I definitely think efficiency and pausing work better together rather than by favoring one over the other.

Is pausing the point of pausing? I think for some people it isn't (or they don't think it is) -- they'd call it resting, or recharging, etc.

One could pause more to be more efficient or one could be more efficient to pause more.

Is being paid attention to the same as being appreciated? Because attention is a gigantic reward.

You should listen to the episode of This American Life about testosterone. _milk told me all about it. It rewards you when your team wins!

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