David R. Henderson  

How I Found Well-Being in a Bubble World

Make Your Own Bubble in 10 Eas... Margaret Thatcher's Legacy...

That could be the title of co-blogger Bryan's latest post, as commenter Rochelle essentially pointed out. Even though I'm not with him on all the particulars, I am with most. Here was my earlier version.

My main purpose with this post is to point out two things: (1) The importance of Harry Browne's book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, and (2) the importance of tweaking Bryan's advice for your own tastes and circumstances.

What Browne did for me.

In December 2000, I stayed overnight at the Sydney, Australia home of Greg Lindsay. I happened to wake up early and, so as not to disturb the rest of the household, I pulled down a book from the shelf in my room: Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. I hadn't read it since the late 1970s. As I paged through it, I was stunned. I found advice after advice that I had been following and that I had thought I had come up with myself. But I hadn't. Instead, back in the 1970s, I found his book so persuasive that I started following much of the advice and became a happier person for it.

My one criticism is that the title is not quite accurate. It's more "How I Found A Little More Freedom and a Lot of Well-Being and Serenity in a Semi-Free World." Much of it is about how Harry Browne figured out ways to make himself freer on the margin. Other big parts, though, are about avoiding traps, minimizing contact with unpleasant people, feeling in control of your life, etc.

Tweak For Your Particulars

I'm pretty sure Bryan wouldn't disagree with tweaking. You need to figure out the kind of person you are and, if you like that person, arrange your life accordingly. If you don't like parts of the person you are, change those parts.

I like arguing. Duh. I write on a blog almost every day. But I don't like arguing with people who are completely closed or who are nasty. Regular readers of my posts have probably figured that out. If someone is nasty to me, the probability that I will bother replying, ceteris paribus, is lower. That takes energy that I don't want to spend.

Similarly with conversations in person. When I figure out that people aren't open or are nasty, I change my approach. For people who aren't open, I switch subjects: ask them about their kids; comment positively on their hair, clothing, whatever; How about those 49ers, etc. For people who are nasty, I leave.

As for figuring out who you are, and changing if you don't like it, here's my best story along those lines. One bad lesson I learned at the UCLA Law/Econ workshop when I was a Ph.D. student was to be way too aggressive at seminars. When I got to the University of Rochester, I found people there were even more so, to the point of extreme rudeness. I didn't like it. I looked at myself and said, "That's where you were going. Don't go there." So I did almost a 180. I would still be aggressive but totally on content and if I found the presenter just unwilling to consider a view, I quit pressing because there was no point.

The transformation worked, as evidenced by the following story. In November 1978, 3 years after I had arrived at the U. of R., I was at a weekend Henry Manne Law/Econ event at the University of Miami, attended mainly by economists and law professors. During a break the first day, a young law professor came up to me and said, "You look familiar." "You do too," I answered. We figured out that we had seen each other a number of times at the UCLA Law/Econ workshop.

Then the payoff: "I know why I didn't recognize you. You seem reasonable. At those Law/Econ workshops, you were an "a**hole."

I grinned. "I know," I said. "And thank you."

COMMENTS (1 to date)

Thank you, David, for your personality-building insights.

About different styles of arguing, I have an impression that there was a distinct way of arguing in the heyday of U. of Chicago economics seminars. I imagine that Milton Friedman's way represented that U-Chicago way. I have wanted to learn it. But I have been unable to find a codification. Maybe I'm just imagining something. Can you comment on this?

I wonder if the way of arguing you learned at UCLA was a descendant of the U-Chicago way, or a mutation. I wonder if your "aggressive but totally on content" expresses my ideal.

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