Leadership

Mark Zuckerberg disagrees with Nobel-winning economist on the key to a happy, fulfilling life

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg says he wakes up every morning and thinks to himself, "I don't have much time here on Earth," so "how can I make the greatest positive impact that I can?"

Instead of viewing life as a series of choices between having fun or being productive, Zuckerberg says there is a better way to look at life.

"I think that having a sense of purpose is the thing that brings us both happiness and health," Zuckerberg shares in the latest "Freakonomics" podcast, recorded in the summer of 2017 and released in full this week.

But "Freakonomics" host Stephen Dubner contends that people's preference to have fun often renders them unable to make good decisions and properly take care of themselves.

"I think we all make trade-offs all the time and I think that that is what being human is about," he says.

Dubner points to the work of the late economist and Nobel laureate Gary Becker. In the 1960s, Becker proposed that every human's decisions are based on the economic costs and benefits of his or her actions.

"[Becker] argued once that all deaths are suicides to some degree, because none of us actually really optimize staying alive long," Dubner says, "because life's too fun and interesting and challenging for that."

Through Becker's lens, indulging in fun would be unproductive and come at a cost. Furthermore, he would argue that taking the time to enjoy life would take away a person's ability to maximize your opportunities and potential for career success.

"The heart of the Beckerian approach is that people make decisions with purpose," University of Michigan economics professor explained in The New York Times. "He had the audacity to suggest that virtually every aspect of human behavior was amenable to economic analysis. And in his version of events, behaviors once considered 'uneconomic'— the pathology of crime, or the romance of love — reflect the calculus of costs and benefits."

But Zuckerberg does not entirely agree with this notion.

"If you're framing [sense of purpose] as 'doing stuff that's fun leads you to your demise,' I think there is a lot of research that would suggest the opposite," Zuckerberg says.

And he's right. Research shows that having a sense of purpose leads to an overall healthier life, as doctor and Cornell researcher Dhruv Khullar recently wrote in The New York Times.

In a Q&A on Facebook several years ago, Zuckerberg explained how he strikes a balance between being productive and fulfilling his own well-being.

"To me, happiness is doing something meaningful that helps people and that I believe in with people I love," he said. "I think lots of people confuse happiness with fun. I don't believe it is possible to have fun every day. But I do believe it is possible to do something meaningful that helps people every day."

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg underscored Facebook's responsibility to converge happiness and well-being on the platform.

"The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long-term measures of happiness and health," he said.

Dubner's interview with Zuckerberg preceded much of the controversy the Facebook CEO is currently enduring in light of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and a leaked Facebook memo.

In the interview, Dubner addressed the very fact that people could "doubt the do-gooder" part of Zuckerberg's happiness rhetoric. In turn, Zuckerberg returned to Dubner's question: "Do you believe that people can make good decisions for themselves?"

"I deeply do," Zuckerberg says.

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