Measure: A Mental Model for Long-Term Contentment

Aman Manazir

Recently, I’ve come across a mental model called “measure” which helps you make good decisions concerning long-term goals.

Optimizing Overall Happiness

When making decisions, we want to pick the option that leads to the highest level of total happiness.

We can think of "happiness" as the amount of pleasure you feel during a discrete moment in time. Your subconscious mind is constantly analyzing your surroundings and deciding how favorable they are. How you "feel" in any given moment is an expression of that calculation.

Different experiences provide different levels of pleasure, which extend over various periods of time. Usually we rest at a neutral level, but occasionally we jump up or down based on our actions.

Different Possibilities

Some activities have a high magnitude of pleasure that vanishes quickly. For example, at the moment you bite into your favorite dessert, you have a burst of happiness that doesn't last for very long.

The inverse of this is stubbing your toe. You experience a second of extreme pain that disappears pretty quickly.

Some decisions result in low levels of happiness that extend over a long period of time, such as wearing comfortable clothes. You don't usually notice it, but quality clothes provide a small amount of pleasure every day for months.

Our goal is to maximize the sum total of happiness throughout our lives, which I call our level of "contentment." This is represented by the area under the curve of this happiness vs time graph:

Introducing Measure Theory

When making decisions, we have a bias towards picking the short-term, flashy choices that provide a large spike of happiness but die out quickly. These are "low-measure."

For example, vacations are something that most people invest in. They have a large amount of initial value, but afterwards the benefits immediately end. Restaurants are similar; you enjoy your time there, but later on you get nothing. You might even have a negative experience afterward if you had an unhealthy meal.

Instead, we should be making decisions that provide the greatest amount of "contentment." Usually, these are the options that improve your life by a small margin but extend over many years. These long-term choices are "high-measure."

Making Purchases

Measure is a useful framework when making purchases. Ideally, you should buy items that are high-measure.

These high-measure purchases are only incrementally better, but they last for a long period of time.

For example, a backpack is an extremely high-measure item. Most students use it every single day. Even if a premium backpack is only 20% better than an average one, it's worth it. That 20% difference compounds every single day for years, which makes a massive quality-of-life improvement.

A great heuristic for purchases is "you should spend your money where you spend your time." If you follow this, you'll usually make high-measure choices.

For example, glasses are one of the highest measure items out there. Glasses are pretty cheap for the value they provide-they literally let you see. This is why you should invest in a quality pair. Even if the features are only incrementally better, as time goes on that difference compounds.

Some more high-measure items are shoes, mattresses, sheets, clothes, trash can, etc.

Pain Points

Another way to find high-measure purchases is to think about the small pain-points you experience every day. If you discover something that can eliminate those, it's often worth investing in.

For example, last night I realized that I have to fish in between my nightstand and bed to find my phone charger every day. This is a recurring pain point that can be easily solved by installing an adhesive hook that holds the charger in place. That would be a high-measure investment. It doesn't provide a great deal of value, but it does solve  a small repeating issue.


Measure theory is especially relevant when making trade-offs within a fixed bound. If you are anyway planning to spend $100 on something, you should pick the highest-measure item.

This theory helps counteract your natural inclination to choose low-measure products.

High-Measure Goals

When picking goals, we have a bias to only invest in the skills that provide us tangible value (in terms of direct monetary compensation).

For example, it would seem completely natural for actors to invest in speaking/voice coaching. Their line of work directly rewards those skills. However, normal people use their voice in every social interaction. It's very  high-measure, so why wouldn't you invest in it? Even if you increase your speaking ability by just 10%, that extends over your entire life.

We tend to only value skills that are directly applicable towards the free market. If you asked someone to improve their speaking, they’d probably only do it if it directly helped their career.

Even if you try to gain non-monetizable skills, most people only look at the flashy ones.

Playing an instrument is a good example.. Music can be very enjoyable, but how much time do you actually spend playing every day? Probably not that much.

Universal Skills

It would be much more beneficial to improve the universal aspects of your life.

One example of these universal traits is your physical health. It's quite popular to exercise nowadays, but in the past it was probably extremely unconventional. It used to be fashionable to be overweight, so people probably ridiculed those who were in shape.

It's becoming more normal to invest in your mental health as well. Every day you experience a wide variety of emotions, so why wouldn't you try to increase your general tranquility? Even if you aren't experiencing any mental health issues, it's useful to improve your emotional acuity, through therapy, meditation, etc.

Other high-measure areas are posture, relationships, breathing, fashion, housekeeping, and cooking.

In the New Year, try to keep measure in mind when setting your goals.

If you are interested in learning more about measure, click here to listen to the original podcast on it.

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