This, at its core, is the process that leads to burnout.
We’re Optimizing Ourselves to Death
Zander Nethercutt

I love the analogy to prisoner’s dilemma here and think “work harder” vs “chill” are perhaps a better metaphor to represent the dilemma than the original cooperate vs defect ever were. And even though I’m not a millennial I relate deeply to the concept of burnout, and have been through a couple cycles of it myself.

Two questions that I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on.

1. Isn’t this hedonic treadmill of luxury and necessity the process that leads to progress? If we continue the game theory metaphor and think of this as the path to mastery (in Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” sense), burnout happens when the challenge to produce new luxuries can’t keep up with the speed that we are taking them for granted. But if that were the case we’d have less access to the luxuries and stop taking them for granted… so there’s an equilibrium where we keep just quite not burning out. Otherwise the trend of progress would have burned out long ago, I’d guess.

2. Isn’t there evidence that as one is more productive one works less for the same reward? The people in the top 1% of income earners are not working X times harder for their X times more money. They probably have more leisure than someone at the 50th percentile income.

I ask these questions because I think there’s an optimistic take on this dilemma. What if burning out helps us figure out how not to burn out? I’m thinking of Tal Raviv’s recent post Getting Good Doesn’t Feel Like Being Good… is it possible that learning to not burn out feels like burning out?