Happiness, Probabilism and Commuting

It should surprise no one (especially my wife) that I think of most things as systems. She calls me a robot. She’s maybe only half wrong.

As I was driving into the office today, on a blessedly traffic free freeway, I started thinking about what elements of my day (and consequently others) relate directly and proportionally to our relative happiness.

To me, happiness is the relative time during the day when predictability is outweighed by the things unexpected. Predictability makes things a chore.

In an equation then:

Happiness (h) is inversely proportional to predictability (p):

h ∝ p

And conversely, h is proportional to probabilism or chaos ©:

h = c

So essential happiness is caused by the minimization of things which are routine in the course of the day. Routine drives boredom. It leaves you with nothing to look forward to. Everyday like the last one, everyday like a rerun (to quote Patti Smith).

My wife and I have a joke that our ideal living environment would be a big house, with a huge yard bordered on one side by a Target, on another by a Whole Foods, My Gym on the third side and my office on the fourth.

The joke has a root in truth. I spend about 90 minutes a day in my car driving to and from work. It isn’t productive time. It is just time. It’s something that I have to dread every night, and through the day. My car is reasonably comfortable, fast and fun, but its a tomb for 90 minutes, day in and day out.

The commute means I can only really run at night when I get home. It limits my time with my family. It is probably slowly killing me, but what doesn’t these days.

When I get to San Francisco every three weeks or so, I walk to our office from my hotel. That leaves 45 minutes in the morning for running. Not having a 45 minute drive home means I can work later but not miss dinner or other things in the evening. And of course for ten months I was working from home, which was amazing but did lead to its own routine as I had no “job” to interject any chaos into the day.

I’m lucky in that the commute to and from work is the only deterministic aspect of my day. For the most part, my day to day work life and home life is a state of chaos or self imposed order which I enjoy (i.e., taking Eli to pre-school or running). I can imagine though if I had this commute, and my job was similarly static and unchallenging, I might be in a worse situation.

Even so, the commute does decrease relative happiness in a steady decline, only slightly offset by weekends.

I have no solution to this problem that is practical. The obvious one would be to move closer to work, but that isn’t practical. We love our house. And in Los Angeles, you can’t “move” closer to anything.

I may try public transportation for at least half of the commute, so I can add my own chaos through my various devices while not driving.

While I have no perfect solution, I do encourage those that find themselves in a rut to examine what aspects of their day is continually unchanging, and remove them. You’ll be surprised what difference it makes.


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