I decided to take economics for fun. Don’t ask why.
One of the first concepts taught is diminishing marginal utility. This describes how an additional employee initially increases a firm’s output, but the benefit from employing more workers will inevitably decline. Plainly put, the more labour put in, the less value that eventually comes out. I think.
I could have better understood this concept, but I spent most of that unit consoling friends who were going through breakups, having family troubles, dealing with personal issues and the like. This is a familiar pattern. When I know someone in need of support, I feel compelled to rearrange my life to care for them. My own social, personal or academic priorities always take a backseat when the emotions of others are involved. I become transfixed by solving their problems. I dilute their stressors by absorbing them myself.
When I know someone in need of support, I feel compelled to rearrange my life to care for them.
I’ve been this way my whole life. In lieu of being labelled as the fun or energetic friend, I typically fall under the umbrella of loyal or reliable. While these are traits I hope to always possess, I’m noticing how they’ve detached me from living a life of my own. I used to thrive off of knowing I’d helped someone I care for, but I’ve recently become weighed down by a burden called the-problems-of-almost-everyone-I-know. This is no one’s fault. I simply have a tendency to internalize external stimulus, to physically feel the feelings of others as a natural part of acknowledging them.
The night before my economics exam after comforting a friend on the phone for hours instead of reviewing government budget deficits, I knew I had crossed a threshold. Diminishing marginal utility suddenly made sense; I realized that it presents itself in my life constantly.
Rather than employing physical labour with the goal of increasing output, I employ emotional labour. I convince myself that my capacity is limitless and that my psychological exertion pays off invariably when, in reality, this is far from the truth. There was a time when my labour-outcome ratio was at its peak, but the more I continued putting in, the less everyone was getting out.
There was a time when my labour-outcome ratio was at its peak, but the more I continued putting in, the less everyone was getting out.
I’m now navigating how to operate at more optimal output levels. I will always prioritize being available for the people I love, just not in the middle of the night before an exam. I’m trying to become responsive and empathetic to others without habitually neglecting everything important to me to tend to them. It’s a lot harder than the graphs make it out to be.
Ultimately, calculators and numerical values can only go so far. I understand diminishing marginal utility in theory, but accepting it proves difficult when each time I witness a friend in need, I struggle not to react in a self-sacrificing manner.
I now see that labour economics are not present solely in markets, but in relationships, too. The cost and value of feelings present many choices. I am reminding myself they are my choices to make.
Maddy Wintermute is an Online Contributor for MUSE.