Happiness isn’t a first order consequence

Happiness is usually the end-goal of why people do what they do.

Different people have different degrees of certainty on what they want out of life. Some people want the corner office and the big house. Some people want six-pack abs. I want the freedom to work on what I’m passionate about.

How many people do you hear say that what they really want out of life is to watch TV all day while eating cookies?

Yet this is exactly what many people do.

Lots of us get confused by first order versus second and third order consequences. The first order consequence of eating healthy is that we have to turn down that big juicy cheeseburger in exchange for something healthier. However, the second and third order consequences are that we’ll likely have more energy and live longer.

Watching TV usually brings a short amount of entertainment (studies say a max of about 30 minutes) and because it also follows the laws of physics (a body not moving wants to continue not moving), it’s a common first order consequence. But we know that the subsequent order consequences aren’t as appealing.

This links closely to a great algorithm from Paul Graham that says,

”If you have two choices, choose the harder…Probably the reason this trick works so well is that when you have two choices and one is harder, the only reason you're even considering the other is laziness. You know in the back of your mind what's the right thing to do, and this trick merely forces you to acknowledge it.”

I’m a goal-setter. I look forward to new year’s eve every year because I enjoy introspection. But it wasn’t until I read Ray Dalio’s Principles, causing me to start attaching second and third order consequence forecasts to my goals, that it became clear how powerful this technique can be.

Entertainment (i.e. watching TV) and having fun are most often first order consequences. A complete lack of both will likely have sub-optimal second and third order consequences, but don’t confuse either of those first order consequences with leading to a subsequent order consequence of happiness.