Does Mathematical Probability Support Uncle Len’s Life as a Loser and Quitter? By Uncle Len, Who Gives Up Even Before He Starts!
I started life by reading every soiled self-help book I found tossed out in the trash, and now look at my success, here in my little rusty trusty shed! In the end I decided that I would be better off making big life decisions, by not consciously deciding at all, as beings with agency would do, but by just tossing a coin, then going for the opposite thing I first thought of. In the end the maths got so complicated I just gave up, this being before the age of lap top computers and smart phones, which apparently think for you now. Certainly, the users don’t seem to be doing much thinking.
“Are you having trouble deciding whether or not to move? Is it time to quit your job but you just can’t go through with it? A new study suggests a simple coin flip not only helps people make big choices, but they’re happier when the coin tells them to make such a huge life change. University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt says a study of happiness after making major decisions reveals that people should actually embrace quitting. His study finds that participants who go through with their coin flip choices were living happier lives six months later. “Society teaches us ‘quitters never win and winners never quit,’ but in reality the data from my experiment suggests we would all be better off if we did more quitting,” Levitt said in a statement. The study, published in The Review of Economic Studies, presented subjects with a number of questions such as, “Should I quit my job?” and “Should I propose?” The participants could also make their own questions, like “Should I get a tattoo" The yes or no choices were then assigned to each side of the coin. With a third-party watching the results, participants were surveyed two months and six months after their consequential coin flip. Although people tended to favor sticking with the status quo after two months, their attitudes changed by the six-month mark. Participants and the third-parties observing them found that coin flips telling subjects to make a major life change ended up making them much happier half a year later. Levitt says that participants in the online study also said they’d make the same decision if they had to choose again. The co-author of Freakonomics adds the results differ from basic economic theories because those models focus on gains and losses and not how the choice impacts how you feel. Levitt argues that change is generally the best option when you’re in a tough spot. “A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo.”
I was so astonished by this, and excited to, that I sought out the abstract, which was indeed abstract, and blow me over, the review was spot on.
“Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This article reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are more likely to make a change, more satisfied with their decisions, and happier six months later than those whose coin toss instructed maintaining the status quo. This finding suggests that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.”
Talk about fresh and juicy: the article by Steve Levitt was published in The Review of Economic Studies, which I diligently read every night before saying my prayers on bended knee, on the cold oil-stained cement floor of my shed where I dwell, on May 19, 2020, and here we are with low lives like me already quoting it in vain. Yes, I will continue to decide things by a coin toss, only at the moment I am so broke I do not have any coins. Still, nothing prevents me from tossing a cockroach and seeing which end it lands, or maybe even tossing myself, doing a graceful back flip, landing either flat on my back, or flat on my face.