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A College Degree Is No Guarantee of a Good Life

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https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/07/will-going-college-make-you-happier/613729/

theatlantic.com

A College Degree Is No Guarantee of a Good Life
Higher education is often described as an investment. But it’s still unclear if it pays off in happiness.

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College as an investment

College as an investment

College is often described as an investment in the future. You pay upfront so you can benefit for years afterwards. According to research, as of 2011 a college degree delivered an ...

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The benefits of college depend on the particulars of each person

While the evidence on the economic and happiness benefits is mixed, attending college depends on the particulars of each person.

A child's gifts, circumstances, and career ambitions all...

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Two of the biggest innovations

Two of the biggest innovations

Two of the biggest innovations of modern times are cars and airplanes. At first, every new invention looks like a toy. It takes decades for people to realise the potential of it.

Innovation is driven by incentives

There are three types of incentives:

  1. "If I don't figure this out, I might get fired." It will get you moving.
  2. "If I figure this out, I might help people and make a lot of money." It will produce creativity.
  3. "If we don't figure this out now, our very existence is threatened." Militaries deal with this, and it will fuel the most incredible problem-solving and innovation in a short time.

During World War II, there was a burst of scientific progress that took place. The government was in effect saying that if a discovery had any possible war value, then it had to be developed and put in use, regardless of the expense.

The conditions for big innovations to happen

The biggest innovations seldom happen when everyone's happy or safe. They happen when people are a little panicked and worried, and when they have to act quickly.

In 1932, the stock market fell by 89%. It was an economic disaster where almost a quarter of Americans were out of work. However, the 1930s was also the most productive and technologically progressive decade in history. Economist Alex Field writes that in 1941, the U.S. economy produced almost 40 percent more output than it had in 1929, with little increase in labor hours or private-sector capital input.

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Network Effects

Network effects are the unseen forces that are guiding our destiny and exerting a powerful intervention on our lives, creating energy that escorts us down a path that is not always fully our intent...

Zipf's Law

Zipf's law is a mathematical probability that states that in a given set, the most frequently used data value (or word) is used twice as often as the next most common value. This is true in various statistical sets like income distribution in companies, internet traffic, phone calls received, and language.

One of the implications of this law is there are unconscious network forces and mathematical patterns governing our lives, with human beings just being nodes exchanging information.

Dinner Party Mathematics

When six to eight people are conversing at a dinner party, it is easy to focus on one conversation, but if the number is higher (say 15), then two-way conversations are more likely.

When groups get larger, the change is exponential, not linear, affecting one's social experience.

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Early History

The connection between genius and possible insanity was first documented in 1891 in the Italian physicians’ book The Man Of Genius.

In 1869, this was taken up by the cousin of Charles Darwi...

Genius and Heredity

In a 1904 study by English physician Havelock Ellis, a list was made of 1030 individuals through extensive research, examining thoroughly the intellectual distinction people had by the various factors like heredity, general health, and social class.


These works established that genius minds are often hereditary.

Genetic Studies Of Genius

A body of work of Stanford psychologist Lewis M. Terman, was an in-depth multi-decade study of gifted individuals, and an attempt to improve the measurement of genius and its association with the degradation of mental stability. This also included an enhanced version of the French IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test.

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Studying happiness

Studying happiness

Religion, philosophy, and the arts have long considered happiness a subject important to study. 

The sciences, however, have only recently caught up:...

Subjective well-being = Genes + Circumstances + Habits

  • Subjective well-being is preferred by social scientists instead of happiness because it's not so vague and subjective. 
  • Research shows there is a big genetic component in determining the baseline you always seem to return to after events sway your mood.
  • Circumstances could make up between 10- and 40 percent of your subjective well-being. But their effects never last very long.
  • The one variable that affects long-term well-being and is under our control: habits.

Habits = Faith + Family + Friends + Work

Constant happiness comes from human relationships, meaningful work, and the transcendental elements of life:
  • Faith doesn’t mean any faith in particular. Just find a structure through which you can contemplate life’s deeper questions.
  • When it comes to your family and friendships and how they should be, just cultivate and maintain loving, faithful relationships. There is no magic formula.
  • What makes work meaningful is not the kind of work it is, but the sense it gives you that you are earning your success and serving others.

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Well-being of adults

Well-being of adults
  • Studies show that most adults' happiness declines through their 30s and 40s, then hit a low in their early 50s.
  • After that, studies show that, in wealthier countries, most peop...

The memory of past success

Current achievements provide happiness, but the memory of past accomplishments do not appear to produce long-lasting happiness.


The waning of ability in people of high accomplishment is particularly difficult psychologically. Retired athletes struggle profoundly after their sports career ends. They are prone to depression, addiction, or suicide.

"Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success."

"Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy. For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success."

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Three different sides of risk

  • The odds you will get hit.
  • The average consequences of getting hit.
  • The tail-end consequences of getting hit.

The first two are...

The tail-end consequences

The tail-end consequences of an action or event (those with low-probability, high-impact) are all that matter.

In investing, the average consequences of risk make up most of the daily news headlines. But the tail-end consequences of risk (for example, pandemics and depressions) are what make the pages of history books.

Education and wealth

College degrees can add significant wealth. The more education you have, the more you’ll earn and the less likely you are to be unemployed. And if you can keep debt low while getting th...

Controlling expenses and wealth

Those who control their spending do much better. This doesn’t mean you have to save on EVERYTHING, just some things. Enjoy your life by spending on what you want here and there, just keep it in line so you have excess to save and invest. Even 10% will make you wealthy over time.

You’ve probably heard that time is your greatest investing asset. It’s true. The more investments earn and grow on their own, the greater they become.

Investment value is also greatly impacte...

You’ve probably heard that time is your greatest investing asset. It’s true. The more investments earn and grow on their own, the greater they become.

Investment value is also greatly impacted by the amount invested.

Moral Luck

We judge ourselves and others morally for things that didn't come out as intended, were unforeseen, or were influenced by factors beyond one's control. 

The judgment we should rece...

Feeling Morally Responsible

Some people do their parenting in difficult circumstances, and nothing that is done by them as parents is fully under their control.

The good and bad traits that parents possess can find their way in the child, with them having no say as to what the child will eventually become or do.

The Inner Paradox

Due to so many factors at play, parents are relying on good luck, pulling off a gamble on the child that is being raised. They don't have much leverage on the outcome, the net result of the actions of their offspring.

There is an inner paradox, a duality that exists in the minds of parents, which can make them accept and also reject the responsibility they have towards their kids' actions.