Don’t Smell the Gasoline

You don’t need to love the smell of gasoline; you need it to be a cost-efficient way to make your car go where you want it. If you’re waiting to find a brand of gasoline you like the smell of before you buy it, you won’t get very far.

The point is that some things are allowed to be inputs towards our happiness rather than part of that happiness. If the gas in my car gets me to the concert I want to see, then hooray!

People often trap themselves by thinking that they need every input to independently be enjoyable, but that’s not the case. Some people might love the smell of gasoline, and then… good for them, I guess? Makes working in a gas station much more fulfilling! But it’s okay if you don’t.

Of course, if you hate the smell of gasoline so much that it makes you gag and vomit, then you might start looking for alternatives to driving (or at least, asking a friend to fill your car up for you). But for most people, “neutral” is a perfectly fine goal for the status of a variety of inputs.

The trick here is to focus your attention on the things you love, not the rest. If you ask me “What did you do this weekend,” then saying “I saw an awesome live band play” is a better answer than “Ugh, I had to put gasoline in my car,” even if both are true.

Here’s a more direct example: I save a lot of money on food versus the median person in my demographic. Why? Because I don’t care about food that much, so I buy extremely cheap, generic meats and veggies. I buy for nutrition rather than because I want something that tastes good. I don’t need every meal to be something I enjoy eating; I just don’t want any food that I actively dislike. Eggs, cucumbers, and rice are all very very cheap and work fine as the basis for most of my daily consumption.

But some people need to have every single meal be food that they actively love, that tastes delicious, etc. No judgment, but those people definitely spend way more money on food than I do. There’s an important secondary benefit, though – because I don’t care at all about “liking” my food (just “not hating” it), I’m able to optimize for other things – namely, health and cost. I pretty much never have to make a trade-off in that space.

Now, let’s talk about your job.

Some people love their jobs. Cool! It’s great if you do, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But it isn’t necessary, and if you let yourself think that it is you’re back to buying gasoline based on smell. If you instead accept that a job is an input towards a happy life, you can start optimizing that input for things other than creating direct happiness itself.

You can choose jobs that have fewer hours, or are closer to your home, or that are more secure, or that pay more, etc. Each of those other virtues can help you have more fun in the rest of your life, and that’s what you want anyway! I have a good friend who doesn’t like his job. He rarely talks about it, but if asked directly he’ll tell you that he gets no joy from it at all. But if you then ask him why he stays, his answer is simple: “It pays well, it’s extremely secure, the hours are always set, and it isn’t hard. Why should I care if I like it?” The rest of his life is full of all the awesome things he wants to do, fueled by the perks of the job he has no emotions for at all.

Your goal is not to optimize each individual aspect of your life for maximum happiness. It’s to maximize your overall life for maximum happiness.

Don’t smell the gasoline. Just put it in your car and drive wherever you want, my friend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s