Our main motivation is happiness. Defined by Harry Brown as “the mental feeling of well-being” it is understood differently by each individual. People make decisions based on what they believe has the best chances of bringing them happiness… within the limited choices they have.
What are those limits? Five biggies are time, energy, knowledge, talent and money. Not to mention, some choices that might bring us an immediate sense of happiness are likely to cause its opposite in the future. Other choices might bring us more happiness in the future but less so near-term.
And, I’m not necessarily referring to choices of immediate or long-term pleasure. Yes, if you enjoy sweets, you’ll choose whether or not to eat that piece of cake now or delay your gratification. Which choice will bring you more happiness? Only you can decide that.
But there are lots of other choices we must make throughout the day, each one based on the desire for happiness. This doesn’t mean we’ll always choose correctly. As Harry says, “individuals make mistakes. But every act is aimed at bringing happiness.”
This is where the “Cost-Benefit Analysis” (CBA in the title) comes into play.
Just as a CEO must constantly make decisions whether a choice will be more beneficial than harmful, we must continually make these analyses with regards to our own happiness.
In his classic, How I Found Freedom in An Unfree World the above-mentioned Mr. Brown taught a brilliant lesson in this regard. For example, let’s say you did something wrong. Not illegal, but embarrassing. It’s not something you’d ever want anyone to know. It might get found out. It might not. And, you constantly worry about it. If you “come clean” and admit it, you might be disparaged or in some other way have to “take some heat” that will be a source of pain. However, the consequences will be significantly less than if it is discovered by someone else.
On the other hand, it might never be discovered, no one will be hurt, no harm – no foul.
So, what do you do? Obviously, I’m using a very general example. If you really want to make it difficult you can imagine a scenario that leaves for what might be a very difficult choice.
However, it’s a choice you will make. Even deciding to do nothing is still a decision.
The CBA is Unavoidable
The point is that in order to make this decision in a way intended to bring you happiness, as you understand happiness, and within the limitations of available choices, you will have to do a serious cost-benefit analysis.
Hopefully we don’t have too many serious ones too often. But, even the much smaller ones still take that cost-benefit analysis.
Eat out (have to get dressed, drive, sit around and wait, take a chance on food and service being good, pay more money, etc. but not have to put in a lot of personal effort and clean up afterwards) or eat in (easier physically in some ways, save money, don’t have to battle crowd, but must make dinner, clean up, etc.)
Fire Pat (difficult and stressful conversation, feel bad for Pat, lose an already-trained employee but one who is rather lazy with a lousy attitude) or keep Pat (won’t have to have uncomfortable conversation or feel bad for his family, but you’re still stuck with Pat and cannot bring on someone else who might — or might not be — more productive)
Decisions. Big ones, medium ones, small ones. We are constantly doing cost-benefit analyses intended to make us happier, as we understand happiness, and within lots and lots of limited choices.
And, that’s okay. It’s part of life. It keeps us thinking. It keeps us growing. And, if we pay attention and act out of conscious awareness we can consistently make better choices.
And, we’ll be happier.
Do you have any systems or methodologies when it comes to your cost-benefit analyses? Please feel free to share.