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April 03, 2019 - Image 10

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or the past few months, my col-
umn has covered hefty topics
such as Facebook data breaches,
Blackberry’s pivotal strategy and Bud
Light’s false advertising. This week, I am
switching things up and digging into the
economics of something worth far more
than the multibillion dollar bottom lines
of corporations: joy.
It’s been a while since many of us took
Economics 101, but most remember the
first fundamental pillar of microeco-
nomics: supply and demand. Demand
illustrates how much of a product or ser-
vice is wanted by consumers at a certain
price, and supply represents how much
the market can offer. When consumers
buy more electric vehicles, the demand
for gas decreases. When a drought ruins
a strawberry harvest, consumer demand
is often higher than the number of straw-
berries available, and the price of straw-
berries jumps. But what happens when
supply is infinite and the price is $0? An
economist’s nightmare and a consumer’s
dream, this is a commodity named joy.

o, what exactly is joy?
A barista who compliments
your haircut. The sun peeking out
on a cloudy day. “Congratulations” in the
subject line at the top of your inbox. At a
university that demands enduring focus
and a pervasive culture of “multi-taskers
or nothing,” our minds gravitate to things
outside of our control in order to find
what we call joy. After all, we don’t have
time on our calendars to pursue grandi-
ose activities with the sole purpose of
And the world isn’t wrong when it tells
us that there is joy in the little things.
But the problem with “the little things,”
or even the big things that bring us hap-
piness, is that they are circumstances
often out of our control. While I admit to
euphoria in the face of a sunny day and
an unhesitating grin in exchange for a
compliment, I believe there is a sizable
concept we miss in our quest for joy: joy
in perspective.
But what does economics have to do
with it? Take mornings, for example.
Many of us wake up to our alarms with
two goals in mind: maximize sleep and
get to class on time. Every hindrance
along the way contributes to our vexation,

and our unrelenting focal point is to sim-
ply beat the clock. One missed breakfast
too many, and we find ourselves confront-
ing what inevitably becomes a bad day.
Welcome to marginal analysis. In eco-
nomics, marginal analysis examines the
benefits of an activity compared to the
additional costs incurred of continuing
that activity. In the pursuit of joy, positiv-
ity can often prove to be the more expen-
sive option compared to pessimism.
When positive, perspective takes on
a snowball effect. One positive thought
prompts our brains to seek another, and
we watch our attitude build on optimism
as the snowball runs its course. This illus-
trates increasing marginal returns. But
the hardest part is packing
the first snowball, or rather,
seeking out our first positive
thought. This is an upfront cost
to consider in our marginal
analysis of joy.
Yet when a perspective is
negative, the opposite of the
snowball effect occurs: The
domino effect. Since negative
thoughts are easier to conjure,
they reproduce in our brains
quicker causing us to seek out
complaints more frequently.
Unlike the snowball effect
which reaps positive marginal
effects as positive thoughts
thinking occurs quickly and
effortlessly — like standing
To understand the human
tendency to pursue the cheap-
er, negative perspective, con-
sider common conversation:
“It’s finally nice outside.” “My
day has been good, can’t com-
plain.” Can’t complain. This is
our tainted rendition of posi-
tivity — a mere extension of
negativity. Because joy comes
at a cost measured by the cur-
rency of our effort, marginal
analysis deems negativity to
be cheaper. There is no upfront
cost to set the domino effect in
Just as we can’t control posi-
tive occurrences, we can’t con-

trol their negative counterparts either.
Economics shows us that negativity is
easier, but one concept trumps any temp-
tation to abandon joy in perspective:
opportunity cost.
When we choose joy, we trade in effort
to focus on what is going right. We choose
celebration and we choose organic ener-
gy. We abandon the easy and elect the
challenge to reap its subsequent benefits.
On hard days, it is a hefty price to pay.
Complaint runs in our culture and we
aren’t trained to run against the grain.
But the fruits of this labor are generous;
when we choose optimism, we develop
the capability to control the definition of
our good and bad days.

At the heart of economics rests the
acknowledgement that human behav-
ior can only be modeled into supply and
demand graphs to an extent. Ultimately,
we are irrational. We make decisions
spontaneously and sometimes need a day
to relish in gloom. But the value is found
in taking the variable cost of positive
thought into a long-term consideration.
The practice of continually choosing joy
will pay higher dividends than continu-
ing our rituals of negativity. The supply of
both is perpetually in surplus, but it is up
to us to fuel our demand of joy.
In support of Stress Awareness Month,
happy April.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 // The Statement

The economics of joy

Managing Statement Editor

Andrea Pérez Balderrama

Deputy Editors

Matthew Harmon

Shannon Ors


Liz Bigham

Kate Glad

Copy Editors

Miriam Francisco

Madeline Turner

Photo Editor

Annie Klusendorf

Editor in Chief

Maya Goldman

Managing Editor

Finntan Storer



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