Daniel Lemire's blog

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Voluntary academic simplicity

Here’s a nice article stating that “Money Can Buy Happiness, Up to a Point.” The gist of it is that you are happy if you are richer than your peers, here’s the consequence of this theory:

As incomes in the U.S. tend to rise over the course of our lifetimes, individuals may find themselves on a sort of treadmill, consuming more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness, they write.

I certainly buy this theory. Looking at the gigantic houses being built around where I live, and considering that people have no more than 2 kids these days, there is clearly a “must have a larger house than my friends” syndrome.

This “rising standards for judging human beings” phenomenon can be observed everywhere. We see it in academia a lot where we expect a lot more from younger professors than we did 10 or 20 years ago, but it also applies to many other fields. However, people can’t continuously earn more, publish more, work more and know more. Human beings are scalable, but only up to a point. Comes a time where the threadmil will break your legs.

As far as “how much money you must earn”, I think the solution is quite clearly to leave the threadmil now and choose voluntary simplicity. It is easy and all you risk is being happier.

Is there an academic voluntary simplicity? A way of life where you choose not to continuously publish more, go for larger grants, and have more students? There are people who choose this path, I know some, but nobody ever attempted to organize and promote this choice. I think we ought to do it.