Snow Day

In Archives, Uncategorized on February 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Everyone I know was overjoyed by the snow day. (I was too, even though I don’t have class on Wednesdays—I think I got caught up in the spirit.) That joy is interesting if you step back and look at it: we’re giving years of our lives and many thousands of dollars for the learning opportunity that our classes represent, and yet we’re delighted when we don’t have to attend them.

I think this gets at a basic problem: most things that make us happy—in the long term, but even in the much shorter term—require a little bit of pain up-front. Getting up and going to class is strenuous, even if we enjoy the class once we’re there. To overcome our reluctance, we need pressure, both from ourselves and externally. But that pressure is uncomfortable, and when a Biblical snow storm lifts it for a day, it’s a celebration.

This problem (“time preference”) keeps popping up in my classes: many mothers keep meaning to take their children to free health clinics for vaccinations, and many farmers keep meaning to buy fertilizer for the next growing season. On a more personal level, time preference has probably given me at least one unnecessary dental cavity, as well as a physique that was clearly not forged in a gym (if at least not found in the Dumpster out back). People’s willpower is only so strong, so there is a great need for systems that encourage us to do what we already want to. Letting us relax now and again is also nice, so here’s hoping for more bad weather—maybe a crippling heat wave.

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