The Economics of Contentment

by AJ Pettersen · 4 comments

It is great to talk about new ways to save money or finding a new job that allows for a raise, but how do you value aspects of life that have no numerical value? For me, sleep, core values, and even leisure are of significant value, though difficult to quantify. Economists attempt to place values on them through various formulas, but they are different for everyone. I have seen situations arise in my life where I have to put a value on foundations such as these. How do you value them?

Sleep IS Important

Being a recent college graduate, this one is fresh in my memory. Throughout my four years of school, I got a glimpse of different ways sleep is valued. I need at least 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night to be fully functional the following day. In college, I learned that sleeping was more valuable to me than studying. For others, this was not the case. I encountered a number of students who would function effectively cramming for tests and sleeping little.

This situation plays out in the working world as well. Some people work long hours to make more money or for the opportunity to move up in their field. The amount of sleep you get at night can severely affect how well you operate at work. There is delicate trade off that many people strive for when they work long hours. How do you value your sleep?

Core Values

Core values are undervalued in economics. In Economics classes we used the word ‘utility’ to define these values, but ‘utility’ was too readily defined by monetary value. If we have more money, our utility will be higher according to economics. Is this always the case in the real world?

I am currently wrestling with this very issue. As a professional baseball player, who is getting married in six months, I am faced with the struggle of blending vocation and primary relationship. The nature of my job takes me to various places throughout the United States for half of the year. Should my future wife leave her well paying job to come along with me? Or, should she continue her work, leaving us apart for the season? We are trying to find the answers to these questions by finding a balance between fiscal possibility and what will lead to the most contentment. Our values are driving our decision making. What are your core values and how do they affect your decisions? Does more money always lead to more ‘utility’?


Everyone needs time away from work, but how much time is optimal? Free time is an aspect of life that has a value like anything else. If your hourly wage provided significant income, how long would you work each day? Would you work all day or are there other things worth more to you? These are difficult decisions everyone makes for themselves every day (sometimes without even knowing it).

I could take extra batting practice or workout longer every day, but is it of more value to me than being at home resting or being with friends? It is a question I ponder often. When does this situation arise for you? How do you make your decision?

Decision Making

It all boils down to the way you make decisions. One of the frustrating things about most economic theory is its lack of consideration toward true human contentment. Human beings make decisions based on more than just money. What are the foundational values and principles of your life? How do you determine value where there is no numerical value? Is there really a ‘point of balance,’ or is that only an ideal? We all live into the struggle, and hopefully, we find our place of contentment.

What will make you happier? More money or something else? Are you working towards that goal?

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  • Pattie RN says:

    You are spot on about sleep…the need for which seems to be genetically linked. Some people really do fine on five hours, but I am NOT one of them. My need for nine hours a night was a huge issue when I was in the military, and is the main reason I decided against med school when I had the grades and a scholarship (this was 30 years ago before hospitals had to limit the time interns and residents worked at a stretch.)

    This article is also correct regarding functioning without enough sleep, whatever “enough” is for your body and mind. It causes impairment just as bad as being drunk or high. Shift work is also a killer…when working night shift I was chronically exhausted and developed high blood pressure. It is a blessing that I didn’t harm at patient during my nightly three am to four am “zoning out” on my feet!

  • MoneySmartGuides says:

    I guess I am lucky in that I can function with very little sleep. But even though I can, I still make it a point to get at least 8 hours a night. I like to perform at my peak and the only way to truly be at my peak, is to get 8 hours of sleep.

  • Long says:

    I am constantly lacking enough time to sleep. I need to work on that.

    You’re right. People don’t value leisure time appropriately. What’s the point of banking all of your earned vacation time only to never use it? I’m a firm believer that what you do doesn’t make who you are. People should take the time away from work to be themselves.

  • Carl Lassegue says:

    I am one of those people who cannot function unless I have enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to doing my best at everything I do.

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