Happiness and Productivity. Living Alone. Living with Friends. Living with Family.

by diegocaleiro1 min read19th Nov 201339 comments


Personal Blog

What I want to get people to discuss here is obvious given the title. What has been their experience regarding who and specially how many people they live with, and how that impacted their motivation and happiness. 

I don't want to peruse papers on happiness and productivity, because I'm particularly interested in anecdotal tales coming from a Lesswrong sample. 

Three pieces of information seem relevant, so if that is okay with whoever comments, I'd ask people to tell us if they consider themselves introverts (recharge batteries by being alone) extroverts, or both. As well as their age and hometown. 

The reason I want to have a fuller understanding of this is that I've slowly come to have a strong belief that the main problem with people I know who are suffering, or failing to achieve their goals, is living with fewer tribal affiliates than they "need". And that belief could very well be false or biased. 

I'm equally interested in what people think in general about their friends' living situation: "Most of my friends who live with friends experience such and such emotion, but the ones who live with family experience such and such problems with motivation"
as I am in personal experiences.  

Following a suggestion about creating topics like this before, I'll put my own case in the comments. 

39 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:57 PM
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I'm 90% extrovert, live in São Paulo, am 27.

My experience of living with my father from 15-25 has been interesting for many reasons: Learning to accept that different people have different thresholds of tolerance for noise, dirt, social interaction, how active you are in the morning etc... More than anything dinner time was a time to share the perks and perils of our day, like many tribal societies do. We lead very different lives (philosopher and EA versus engineer at a big company).

Currently I live alone and my girlfriend comes over frequently. I don't like living alone. Probably I should hate living alone, but the human mind is not that good at attaching the right emotions to the right consequences, as anyone in the EA movement, or anyone who ever ate unhealthy sweets can tell. Living alone puts the entire burden of responsibility on what I do with my time on me. All the thresholds are my thresholds. The house is exactly as I tolerate it to be (modulo when my GF comes), The daily happenings are exactly what I allow to penetrate my attention. Sounds like great for productivity right? but it isn't. The LW study hall helps when the problem is just feeling lonely. But nothing helps when the problem is needing outside random input from someone whose ideas you care about.

Thus I envy people who live with friends. I envy them only less than people who work with what they love with friends. They have someone to talk to about the things they are excited without having to use the web or go out to meet a friend to do it. (in a big city, meeting someone could remove 1 hour from your day due to traffic). I've also heard people saying that the best heuristic is to live with friends who are not your very best friends, since cohabiting causes friction between close friends.

I am female, 25, extroverted, and living in Boston. I started out mostly introverted, and gradually became more extroverted over the years, especially after moving in to the Boston rationalist house (Citadel) a few months ago.

I have been in a variety of living situations: 1) family, 2) husband and mother in law, 3) husband and math camp friends, 4) just husband, 5) by myself and visiting husband in NYC, 6) LW friends and visiting husband in NYC (current). Out of all these, the experiences of living with friends were the happiest and most interesting by far, especially the rationalist house (it will be even better when my husband finishes up his job in NYC and moves to Citadel).

I find the rationalist house to be a near-optimal living situation in terms of the default social environment and the influences that I am routinely exposed to. We have social norms of being curious, rewarding each other for doing good things (and a "gem economy" for this purpose), discussing personal topics, asking for advice and feedback, expanding comfort zones, making predictions (using CFAR-style prediction markets), sharing activities, etc. The house is also a Schelling point for local rationalists to visit and for out of towners to stay (we have a guest room), which increases the frequency and variety of interesting conversations even further. To use Viliam_Bur's terminology, Citadel is a combination of a feelings-oriented community and an outcome-oriented community. We run LW meetups, weekly rationality sessions (e.g. goal factoring) as well as random group activities (e.g. dancing and hiking); there is a general growth mindset besides just hanging out and having fun.

I have not experienced any particular inconveniences from living with a large number of people. On the contrary, in a house of six, economies of scale start to kick in - we have a distribution of chore assignments, a weekly cleaning service, and occasional communal dinners, so the household runs very smoothly. The downsides of living there have mostly taken the form of not doing quite enough reading and going to sleep too late, but I'm counting on Beeminder to help me with that :). I feel like I have grown a lot since I moved here - I started writing and goal factoring regularly and giving presentations at meetups, stopped being a lurker on LW, etc. I'm aware that I'm somewhat overexcited and biased about Citadel, given that it's a new development, and the long term effects on our lives remain to be seen. That said, I would still highly recommend to try living with local LWers if you have the chance.

We have social norms of ... rewarding each other for doing good things (and a "gem economy" for this purpose)

I must hear more about this.

There is a house economy of shiny gems that are used for positive reinforcement. People get reinforced for things like helping others with tasks, initiating activities, or expanding their comfort zone (e.g. trying a dance for the first time). Everyone has their personal stash of gems that they can use to award others, and there is also a house vault. Once a week, you are allowed to take a gem from the house vault (instead of your own stash) and award it to someone.

We originally planned to use poker chips for this purpose, but decided that gems are much more conducive to staying within the domain of social norms - poker chips are like money, while a gem is more like a gift. The gems don't have to stay within the house, and are sometimes awarded to guests.

On how I see the issue with other people, I'd like to draw a caricature of how I see the world when I look at it with my dark gloomy glasses (which evolved into a long brainstorm that I only recommend you read after posting your own opinion about modes of living):

The world is a collection of an enormous amount of people who need love and attention. Unfortunately, everyone has a mental hierarchy of people in their minds and wants attention from the people who are on top of themselves in their hierarchy. Luckily each hierarchy is different though there are strong correlations. Sometimes a pair will hold each other as higher and thus interact for a while.

People spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be interesting and engaging to the people they want to be around though mostly they do it at an unconscious level. Many do almost all they do so that others will find them prestigious and worthy of their love and attention.

Which is funny, because one of the things you need to do as you move up the partial ordering of those hierarchies, is either really pushing people away, or pretending you don't need love and attention. Having a blaze attitude of I don't care. Or, more likely in the world of people I hang around; having a "I don't have time to talk unless it's super important and will save the world within 21 hours" attitude.

Facebook made all that kind of peculiar. People post pictures of the few times in which they feel socially authorized to be in company of friends, and usually say nothing about the hours and hours they spend learning the skills that gave them friends, or simply were alone. Here is where living alone strikes. Every now and then people cry out for help in desperation. It is usually when they are alone and can no longer stand this loopsided ape logic of only looking up social hierarchies (and god forbid we had matching hierarchies, that would be the end of the world) .

My general impression is that loneliness is going to be one of the grand problems of the 21st century. More only children, architecture designed for living alone, big cities where it is physically hard to get to friends, different conceptions of what a family should be like, and easy web access to people who are awesome at some skill you like, but live half a world away from you are all factors contributing to this claim.

Once I was just the nerd chubby boy with glasses sitting at the edge of the classroom. A wallflower with some math intuition. I've grown in a very lucky environment, and now I have people that look up to me, quote me on their Skype phrase, feel nervous when talking to me or even avoid talking to me because my time is precious and I direct a small organization. An NGO that accepts my suggestions (I guess) mostly because of my past deeds, since no one is being paid.

So I've been on both sides of at least some person's feeling of prestige, and desire for friendship, for co-working, for attention, love, etc...

Thus I've been on both sides, I still am on both sides for different people. And it doesn't feel that different. For random interactions on my day to day life, seems to me I am bound to only see as emotionally and socially worthy a small subset of interactions no matter how much prestige I earn, lose or keep.

So... the secret seems to be (and I hope it is obvious that I'm thinking while I write, and I have no certainty of what I'm saying) to have many interactions of the kind "it's a given". If you are already in love, then that interaction is a given. If you work at adjacent desks, that is a given. Most importantly for the topic, if you live in the same house, it is a given. There is no social tension, no need to consult your mental model of hierarchies. You are interacting with that person because you live together which is completely legit. You don't need to be proving yourself and testing them all the time.

Seth Godin gave a TED talk in 2008 saying that the internet has resurrected a mode of living that had not been practiced ever since the inception of cities with Oikos (family houses), the Tribe. I agree with that, and I think it is time for architecture, and people, to catch up.

Work in the 80's used to be interact for 6 hours, read, think focused for 2 hours, then go home and rest because finally you can be with yourself. Now work is 8 hours in front of a computer. Sometimes in your cubicle, sometimes home. But emotionally alone nevertheless. The trend has reversed. It is time to get back home so you can finally see some real squishy people and talk about plans and goals.

People should live in Goal Tribes, aka intentional communities. Effective Altruists and eco-friendly folk around the world have realized that, and I wonder to what extent can that success case be generalized.

People probably need two kinds of communities -- let's call them "feelings-oriented community" and "outcome-oriented community" (or more simply "home" and "work", but that has some misleading connotations).

A "feelings-oriented community" is a community of people who meet because they enjoy being together and feel safe with each other. The examples are a functional family, a church group, friends meeting in a pub, etc.

An "outcome-oriented community" is a community that has an explicit goal, and people genuinely contribute to making that goal happen. The examples are a business company, an NGO, a Toastmasters meetup, etc.

The important part is what really happens inside the members' heads, not what they pretend to do. For example, you could have an NGO with twelve members, where two of them want to have the work done, but the remaining ten only come to socialize. Of course, even those ten will verbally support the explicit goals of the organization, but they will be much more relaxed about timing, care less about verifying the outcomes, etc. For them, the explicit goals are merely a source of identity and a pretext to meet people professing similar values; for them, the community is the real goal. If they had a magic button which would instantly solve the problem, making the organization obviously obsolete, they wouldn't push it. The people who are serious about the goal would love to see it completed as soon as possible, so they can move to some other goals. (I have seen a similar tension in a few organizations, and the usual solution seems to be the serious members forming an "organization within an organization", keeping the other ones around them for social and other purposes.)

As an evolutionary just-so story, we have a tribe composed of many different people, and within the tribe we have a hunters group, containing the best hunters. Members of the tribe are required to follow the norms of the tribe. Hunters must be efficient in their jobs. But hunters don't become a separate tribe... they go hunting for a while, and then return back to their original tribe. The tribe membership is for life, or at least for a long time; it provides safety and fulfills the emotional needs. Each hunting expedition is a short-termed event; it requires skills and determination. If a hunter breaks his legs, he can no longer be a hunter; but he still remains a member of his tribe.

I think a healthy way of living should be modelled like this; on two layers. To have a larger tribe based on shared values (rationality and altruism), and within this tribe a few working groups, both long-term (MIRI, CFAR) and short-term (organizers of the next meetup). Of course it could be a few overlapping tribes (the rationalists, the altruists), but the important thing is that you keep your social network even if you stop participating in some specific project -- otherwise we get either cultish pressure (you have to remain hard-working on our project even if you no longer feel so great about it, or you lose your whole social network) or inefficiency (people remain formally members of the project, but lately barely any work gets done, and the more active ones are warned not to rock the boat). Joining or leaving a project should not be motivated or punished socially.

Perhaps acknowledging this difference is one of the differences between a standard religion and a cult. The cult is a society and a workforce in one: if you stop working, your former friends throw you overboard, because now you are just a burden to them. For a less connotationally sensitive example, consider an average job: you may think about your colleagues as your friends, but if you leave the job, how many of them will you keep regular contact with? In contast with this, a regular church just asks you to come to sunday prayers, gives you some keywords and a few relatively simple rules. If this level of participation is ideal for you, welcome, brother or sister! And if you want more, feel free to join some higher-commitment group within the church. You choose the level of your participation, and you can change it during your life. For a non-religious example, in a good neighborhood you could have similar relations with your neighbors: some of you have the same jobs, some of you have the same hobby, some of you participate on a local short-term project; but you know each other and you will remain neighbors for years.

Actually, something like this is already naturally happening with LW: there are people who merely procrastinate on the LW website, and there are people who join some of the organizations mentioned here. The only problem is that the virtual community of LW readers is... virtual. Unless you live near each other, you can't have a beer together every week, can't go together for a trip or a vacation, can't together create an environment for your children where they will naturally internalize your values, can't help each other solve their random problems.

It would be great to have a LW village, where some people would work on effective altruism, others would work on building artificial intelligence, yet others would develop a rationality curriculum, and some would be too busy with their personal issues to do any of this now... but everyone would know that this is a village where good and sane people live, where cool things happen, and whichever of these good and real goals I will choose to prioritize, it's still a community where I belong. [EDIT: Actually, it would be great to have a village where 5% or 10% of people would be the LW community. Connotationally, it's not about being away from other people, but about being with my people.]

Berkeley is probably the closest equivalent of that village.

Also thanks for your long and interesting reflections.

Do you have any evidence for your claim that people need these two layers? As far as I can tell this is just something for which you can make up a plausible sounding story.

there are people who merely procrastinate on the LW website, and there are people who join some of the organizations mentioned here

There is a (multidimensional) continuum of people on LW. It is not as black and white as you make it out to be.

Do you have any evidence for your claim that people need these two layers?

My observation of a few different NGOs and the catholic church. The catholics even have a name for it, although I am not 100% sure my interpretation is correct. From wikipedia:

In many Christian religions, "modality" refers to the structure and organization of the local or universal church, composed of pastors or priests. By contrast, parachurch organizations are termed sodalities. These include missionary organizations and Christian charities or fraternities not linked to specific churches. Some theologians would include denominations, schools of theology, and other multi-congregational efforts in the sodality category. Catholic sodalities can include orders, monasteries, and convents.

Here my translation would be "modality" = the whole church (community-oriented), "sodality" = a working group within the church (task-oriented).

The tension between "people who come to socialize" and "people who want to have work done" in some organizations seems pretty obvious to me. And these goals are not completely opposite; the task-oriented people usually also love to socialize. It's just a difference between people who work towards the goal, and use the social environment to relax afterwards; and people who come there mostly for socializing -- the latter provide a social support for the former, but that's pretty much their only contribution towards the professed goals.

A person can be task-oriented in one group and community-oriented in another one. I can imagine a person running a successful business, who once in a week comes to a chess club without playing any chess there, merely talking with other chess players about what a great game chess is and then having some talk about their lives. I am not criticizing the person; just saying that if too many people in the chess club will treat it this way, it will become a chess club only in a name, and the most active chess players will start meeting somewhere else. Or at least there will be one corner in the club where the people are really playing, and the rest of the club will be there for the talkers.

I guess during many LW meetups there are also people who want to do some rationality exercises, talk about scientific books they read, do some projects, increase the sanity waterline, et cetera... and then there are people who come because they feel good in the company of smart and sane people. Both of those are legitimate goals; it's just not the same goal, and it is good to be aware of it. -- Otherwise the people who want to "become stronger" become frustrated by the inactivity of the others; and the people who come there because they enjoy the company of the smart and sane people become frustrated that someone is always bothering them to do something, when in fact they prefer it as it is.

(From memory), Idris Shah said that Sufis wouldn't teach anyone who didn't have a social life, so that teaching wouldn't be (would be at less risk for?) diluted by the need for socializing.

That's also a great excuse for rejecting low-status people, mwahahaha! :D

(Connotationally: The mere fact that this filters out low-status people doesn't make it a suboptimal strategy for the explicit goal of not diluting the teaching.)

The sort of Sufism Shah was talking about was a secret society. They weren't and aren't subject to the ADA. If they want to reject low-status people, they don't need excuses.

This being said, a lot of low-status people do have social lives.

I have experienced three ways of living: 1) with my mother, 2) alone, 3) with my girlfriend. It is difficult to evaluate the impact of the first two options, because that also happens to be a difference between my school years and work years.

During the school years when I lived with my mother, I was most productive. The school gave me a fixed schedule when I had to leave my home (which made all other activities outside of my home less trivially inconvenient, which in my case matters a lot). I didn't have a good relationship with my mother, and that fact encouraged me to spend even more time outside. So despite being introverted, I met many interesting people and did a few interesting things. (For example I was a coordinator of Amnesty International in Slovakia, or an amateur editor of a science-fiction magazine.) From inside, I was always funny and laughing outside of my home, and silent and depressed at home; people who knew me in one of these modes would probably not recognize me in the other one.

When I ended school, I strongly focused on making money and relatively soon bought my own home. I lost most of my social networks. Living in my own home worked like magic for my self-esteem and inner peace. No one there to criticize me every day and make fun of everything I consider valuable. My personality became stable, calm... and rather lazy and probably a bit boring, I have to admit. Gradually I started spending more time alone at home, on internet. I missed the contact with cool people, but I wasn't strategic enough to find a solution. So to have some interesting interaction and communicate with cool people, I spent even more time at the internet, etc. Luckily, a very good friend of mine lived just a few streets away from me. We spent a lot of time talking and playing computer games together.

Now my girlfriend is living with me, significantly improving my life. She provides me social contact on those days when I only go to work and back home. She invites me to some social activities, I invite her, and then we have interesting things to discuss. She also reads LW; and generally, she is smart. In addition of all other benefits of having a girlfriend, it is so good to have a smart and rational person near to interact with on a daily basis. It feels like living in a saner world.

In general I consider myself introverted, because I don't mind doing an interesting project alone for hours (though it is difficult to resist the templation of going online instead), and I feel comfortable in smaller groups talking about meaningful topics, and uncomfortable trying to have a small talk in a large group. This is partially a consequence of lack of some social skills, and the fact that I consider many people painfully boring. With more interesting people around me, I am sure I would spend more time socially and feel less exhausted by it; but my social activity would probably still be less than average.

For decades I dream about having a tribe of people like me here. I know a few individuals that would pass my filter. With better social skills and better strategy, I could find some more. Not sure if they have a desire for such tribe, and whether they would accept each other, though. (One negative piece of evidence is that LW exists, I have translated over a hundred articles to my language and posted them on facebook, we had a few LW meetups here... so, if there were many people thinking like me, they would already come running.) There are some similar tribes which I should explore; I am doing it, just extremely slowly. I believe that a small group of x-rational people acting together could visibly improve the environment around them. I would like to have both a nice tribe to belong to and satisfy my social needs and do some local optimization. At this moment, I can only have the two things separately (support some goood cause with my work or money, and hang around with irrational people).

Somewhat introverted, living in London, 23 M.

I've done all three, plus living with nonfriends. Living alone versus living with friends feels like a trade-off. Currently I live alone, and it's nice not to have to coordinate with anyone about cooking, cleaning, etc., or to ever have people around when I'd rather they not be, that sort of thing. When I was living with friends, if I'd been living alone I would have had almost no social interaction, and that would probably have made me unhappy-without-realising-it, but that's not currently a problem. On the other hand, living with friends means I get to spend more time with them; and sometimes I need a hug or a shoulder to cry on or advice that I don't want overheard, and that's much harder to get when I live alone.

Living with nonfriends or family combines the bad parts of both of those. Family is worse for reasons that I can't express very well and don't feel like going into. (Not that I have a bad relationship with them; I just don't have a particularly good one, either.)

Overall I have a preference for being alone. Having other people around often bothers me, in particular if I have to share my time between paying attention to them and pursuing other (lonely) activities which I'd rather do instead.

However, I also can't feel happy without at least some human presence/interaction. I know if I stay alone with no contact at all for more than a few days, I'll feel lonely and start craving some human company. The way I balance these two impulses in practice, is to live with the same person who I get along with well, almost 24 hours a day, day after day, and have otherwise very few other contacts with other people. This is in no way perfect, but it's better than any alternative I can think of.

Overall, I tend to dislike interacting with/within groups of people more than with individuals. I particularly enjoy discussing interesting topics, so long as it's just with one person. I'm often disappointed in people, have fairly high standards, and only a few topics of interest which I like to share. This severely limits the amount of people, and circumstances in which I can pleasantly interact with them. I can still interact with just about anybody, I just don't enjoy the perpetual strain I experience when doing so.

I am an introvert, male, early thirties. I live alone, interacting rarely with other humans. I play video games, read books and browse the net. I do my job remotely, turning emails from my boss into checkins to my source control.

The life of the hermit is underrated.

It is an excellent existence. It might not be for everyone, but I think you should give it a month or so. You cannot let anyone down, hurt them or be hurt by them. You cannot waste their time, or ruin their day. Your time is entirely your own, and you can indulge in any whim which strikes your fancy, or devote yourself entirely to a project of your own choosing.

I don't have a lot to say about my friend's experiences, for the obvious reason.

I'm fairly introverted and highly independent. I have a great deal of willpower and find self-motivation easy. Here are my living experiences after moving out from my parent's home:

  • University dormitories: I initially thought I would hate it, due to all the shared space. However, I had a great experience, as I got along well with most of my hallmates. While my roommate and I were sufficiently different to not be great friends, we were able to share a room without conflict. The lack of privacy was difficult for me to deal with, and not having my own space was tiring. I would not share a room with a person again (even a romantic interest), except under great need.

  • Apartment #1 with good friends: The apartment was big, so everyone had lots of space and privacy. I really liked this -- there were some roommate conflicts (mostly over under communicated expectations re: chores), but otherwise, everything went well. I'd gladly live in a shared space with like minded people.

  • Apartment #1 with bad friends: This was not so fun. I initially thought it would be great, as I was better friends with the new roommates at first. However, after a few months, they ceased doing any chores, and eventually two of them moved out, owing me $500. This came as a complete surprise, as I had no reason to distrust them prior to living with them. This made me aware that agreeing to share a lease with someone was a massive risk.

  • Apartment #2 with quiet/distant roommates: This apartment was a decent amount smaller, but everyone still had enough space and privacy. My roommates were quiet, highly introverted, and never really left their room. I detected some unspoken hostility towards the end of their stay, but was never sure why. Living with them was moderately stressful, as I felt like any use of the space was a slight intrusion due to the non-friendly nature of the situation. After they became hostile, it became stressful to be in my apartment, and I don't want that to happen again.

  • Apartment #2 living alone: I LOVE THIS. The additional space to have more specialized areas is really nice (I now have a bedroom for sleeping/fucking and an office for recreation/work). If I want to play music or have quiet, I know i'm not imposing on anyone. I know there is no risk of bad roommates stealing or exposing me to financial risk.

Right now, living on my own has been preferable to any other situation. I view getting a roommate as a cost-saving measure -- and the quality of the roommate would have to be sufficiently high that I didn't feel like accepting the loss of autonomy, risk of financial harm, and exposure to theft were great enough to counterbalance the savings on rent and utilities.

[-][anonymous]8y 9

In the past several years, I've been in different environments:

—Living in a boardinghouse in DC with people who I didn't really know. This was alright for happiness, but horrible for productivity because I had no social motivation to get anything done, and it turns out humans are social animals.

—Living with my parents in Boston. This was better for productivity, since they were interested in what I was doing with my time and my progress towards my goals, but reporting my progress wasn't exactly fun and it caused tension in the relationship.

—Living in the Boston rationalist house with half a dozen friends. This had the same benefits of talking about goals and getting social points for making progress. The dynamic felt a lot better because I was interacting with peers instead of parents, and it was easier to vanish into my room for a couple days when I wanted to. Also having house coworking or strategizing events is a big plus. A majority of residents (possibly all) had a similarly positive experience.

—Living and working with Leverage Research in Oakland. Like the above, but more.

To answer your demographic questions, I'm 25 years old, originally from Boston, and think the introvert/extrovert model is extremely silly but will answer "mostly introvert" in the spirit of not screwing up your data.

I've slowly come to have a strong belief that the main problem with people I know who are suffering, or failing to achieve their goals, is living with fewer tribal affiliates than they "need".

This seems plausible.

On a side note, these comments are fascinating looks into people's lives and doing a really good job of humanizing the people who frequent LW. I'm much more inclined to go to a meetup now.

You should totally go to a meetup, if only for value of information purposes. If it's bad, then it costs you one evening. If it's good, then you can go to many, many awesome meetups in the future. (This reasoning applies to trying new activities in general, not just LW meetups.)

70% introvert, 26 yo, San Francisco.
Lived by myself and it was very much not fun. I didn't even realize how much not fun it was until I started living with awesome people. And it makes me feel a lot better leaving in a somewhat large decorated apartment, rather than the minimalist cube flat I created for myself prior to that. Currently living with my girlfriend.

Mostly introvert. Early 40s. Living near Cambridge, UK. Working in a technology startup doing mathematics, software, engineering, occasional science.

I'm not sure my anecdotal evidence will be much use -- I have few meaningful comparisons to report, and so far as I can tell the result of each comparison is "not much changed" -- but I'll give it anyway on the grounds that it's better not to bias your results by suppressing things that seem boring or uninformative.

I've lived with my parents, before going to university (and between university terms as a student). I was in more or less full-time education all that time, so comparisons with later life may not be relevant. I don't recall having any very impressive goals at the time beyond doing well in my studies. I did do well in my studies, and read a lot of interesting things.

I've lived on my own in university-provided accommodation, while doing postgraduate study. That was for only about a year. Motivation and happiness were fine so far as I can recall.

I got married at about the same time as I started my PhD, and have lived with my wife since then. My motivation and productivity have been very variable, depending on things like how well my work was going (there is of course a feedback loop here) and the health of my marriage (again, feedback loops; unhappy people are harder to live with). My wife is intelligent and nice but not particularly rationalist.

About 7 years ago two things changed simultaneously: our daughter was born, and I abandoned (a somewhat-rationalist version of) Christianity in favour of atheism. My wife remains a Christian. (So I suppose there's less tribal affiliation now, in some sense). So far as I can tell, there was no particular change in my happiness or motivation or productivity at that point. It's hard to isolate the consequences of those changes because they happened at about the same time -- and, also at about the same time, I changed jobs and moved house.

In general I would describe myself as moderately happy, not very strongly motivated, and more productive than most people but substantially less than I could be if I were strongly "driven". None of this seems to me to have changed dramatically over my adult life to date.

I don't think I have enough insight into my friends' and colleagues' motivation to warrant trying to say anything about them here.

My overall experience is that both happiness and productivity as a function of incidental daily human contact are inverted U curves. The peak of the happiness curve involves more incidental human contact than the peak of the productivity curve. Being on the under-socializing side of both peaks is a widespread issue for many people, including those who define themselves as "introverted". I'm guessing that the friend - family distinction varies depending on each person's individual relationships with those parties.

That is a good summary of how I view this too.

It doesn't touch the issue of "whom you live with" though.

Time and motivation are two major influences on productivity with happiness influencing motivation. Non-productive human contact decreases time. Relationship valence, in-ex-troversion, and a host of other factors influence the valence of each human interaction. Positive human interaction valence increases happiness, though, like everything, it does come at at opportunity cost.

So negative non-productive relationships will decrease time and motivation, having a double-negative effect on productivity. Positive non-productive relationships will decrease time and increase happiness, and the influence on productivity will depend on whether time or motivation is the limiting factor.

The productivity/non-productivity of the human contact is on a spectrum as well, with "working towards goal" the most productive, "study-buddy" as neutral, and "doing things which take time away from work" as eating the most time away from productivity - but possibly making up for this by being more fun.

Under this model, productivity with respect to human contact is maximized when 1) productive activity is enjoyable 2) to do with other people 3) who you particularly enjoy interacting with. However, this is just a special case of "make work fun to keep up motivation" and degree of extroversion will moderate what you find fun.

That's way more analysis than was necessary for: "To be happy (and therefore productive) don't live alone unless you like it, live with people you like, and who help you towards your goals...but beware of socializing cutting into your time" since we all instinctively know this, but there it is.

I like both your analyses, and would like to make you sure it was not me who downvoted them before. Thanks

60% Introvert. At least, I used to think of myself as an introvert, but recently I've come to wonder if that really is what I am. My hometown is Adelaide, Australia, but I'm currently in Hangzhou, China. I'm 24.

For the first 23 years of my life I lived with my family. I used to think that I loved being by myself, because I never really felt the need to make any special effort to see friends. Also, I loved the times I was 'home alone'. However, I think that I may actually have been mistaken - I think I just took the company of my parents for granted, and for most of that time I was also at school and then university, which meant that I had no choice but to have a fair amount of social contact anyway.

Within the last year I have moved out of home. I now live alone, and I don't like it - I'm basically permanently lonely when at home. I've noticed a very strong correlation between my long term wellbeing and the frequency of unavoidable contact with a few people who I like and trust. The happiest times of my life have been when I have had very frequent contact (many hours almost every day) with a few close friends. As a side note, this situation seems only ever to arise with those you live or work with. There are entire years when I have been very happy where I can trace that wellbeing to those close friends, and a few years where I was quite unhappy almost entirely because of loneliness. It seems to be the strongest determinant of my long term wellbeing.

So... the secret seems to be (and I hope it is obvious that I'm thinking while I write, and I have no certainty of what I'm saying) to have many interactions of the kind "it's a given". If you are already in love, then that interaction is a given. If you work at adjacent desks, that is a given. Most importantly for the topic, if you live in the same house, it is a given. There is no social tension, no need to consult your mental model of hierarchies. You are interacting with that person because you live together which is completely legit. You don't need to be proving yourself and testing them all the time.

I agree with this.

As an additional note, I have found that incidental contact with acquaintances and strangers does basically nothing to alleviate loneliness. I teach at a university now, so I have interactions with hundreds of students a week, but this doesn't make me feel any less lonely after I leave the classroom.

Finally, I have always wondered why it is that everyone fears so much to tell other people that they are lonely (I fear breaking this taboo as well). I think that it is probably because they sense that the person they tell will feel burdened as the one who has to 'fix' their loneliness, but personally that wouldn't be how I would feel if someone told me that they were lonely. Does anyone have thoughts about this?

It all sounds pretty similar to my experience. Living with my family (parents, siblings, cousins) has grown increasingly stressful over the past decade or so, though, so I find that things are usually (not always; sometimes we get along just fine and it's fun times) worse when I'm there.

I recently did a quick-and-dirty quantifying of different aspects of my life during different time periods, and found exactly what you said about "given" social interaction to be true. My first two years of college were horribly unpleasant and unproductive, and were also the two years that I was most alone (I didn't recognize this and was stubbornly clinging to individualism at the time); the same is true of the two years I spent at home after college (except by then I'd realized my folly; it was just absurdly difficult to do anything about it by then).

I also find myself with an irrationally negative emotional reaction whenever I so much as think the word "lonely". "Lonesome" is slightly better, and "alone" is significantly better, but I still feel strong resistance to breaking the taboo on talking about it. (I was actually considering posting to see if there was any interest in an LW meetup anywhere I can reach. I'll probably just wind up trying to make the St Louis meetups if I can level up my ability to travel independently.)

Somewhat introvert (INTJ), 40, Hamburg, Germany.

  • I lived with large family during youth and only have fond memories. It was a warm and fostering environment. It gave me my confidence and balance.
  • I lived two years in boarding school and it was OK. I learned autonomy, methods, social abilities.
  • I lived 3 years mostly alone (sharing a large flat with one person). This was during study and gave me independence (mostly; I was still supported financially by my parents).
  • I fell in love, lived an intense relationship and built a family. Here I really matured and learned ups and downs that cannot be taught.

During all this time I had a fairly stable circle of friends and acquaintances (about 40 people, which is about the number of guests on our wedding reception). Some informal get togethers from during my flat sharing years developed into a monthly custom which always gathers 5 to 25 guests (somewhat random participation; some always some seldom, some on and off).

The key insight of this Discussion for me is Viliam_Burs comment (http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/j3q/happiness_and_productivity_living_alone_living/a2fe ) that there should be an outcome-oriented community. I do not really have that. I recently realized that I am missing a community that is challenging. The job is not really such a community for me (it is too small and not exactly challenging). LW is nice but an online community can go only so far. I wondered whether an LW meetup (which I might organize) could provide that. Would you recommend that?

Or are meetups more of the first type? Is that an interesting side question? How do LW Meetups factor in the feelings vs. outcome dimension?

I would guess that most meetups are of the community-oriented type, and I think this is good -- otherwise busy people would completely stop attending the meetups.

But there is an opportunity to explicitly create an outcome-oriented subgroup at the meetup. Ask people how many of them are willing to invest at least X hours (beware the planning fallacy) between now and the following meetup to participate on a group project. Then take these people aside and select a project that could be done with the available energy (again, beware the planning fallacy). Precommit to present your results publicly during the following meetup. Collect e-mails. Then use your rationality skills towards the outcome: plan specific tasks; track spent time using pomodoros in a shared document. Report in LW group diary when finished.

I'm an introvert, hometown is Detroit. I was happiest when living with my family, although that may have been because of other factors related to being young. I moved out at 17 to go to college, and lived alone for five years, until I moved in with my current roommate. There is no doubt that living with a roommate has been better for me. I find it is much harder to get into a downward spiral when there is someone else living with me. In spite of this, I do sometimes wish I still lived alone. I know it was worse for me, but it was so much easier.

75% introvert, living alone was much better for productivity and happiness because I was better able to regulate "interruptions" like hanging out with friends etc., by planning when I went out and when I came back.

I lived for a while with 4 roommates and that was terrible for productivity, as there was a constant background noise of talking or music (I need silence for concentration, so maybe not applicable if you don't), which sometimes went very late into the night. It was a positive for happiness however, as we lived in a "hip" part of town and everyone got along fairly well, so there was a lot of opportunity for quality social experiences.

Currently I live with my girlfriend and a close friend. For productivity it's been pretty good, but mainly because my girlfriend is also a graduate student so it's easier for me to concentrate at night if she also needs to do so. Living with a close friend is bad for productivity because if you're both home at the same time you'll inevitably spend some time talking or hanging out. I think if my girlfriend was not also in graduate school this would be a very bad setup for productivity. Happiness however is great in this configuration as I'm often near two people I care a lot about, who are both respectful and responsible. It's the quality social experience of the second setup where I had a lot of roommates, without the unpredictability of chatter and music late into the night. In other words, it's for the most part a pretty good average between living alone and living with a group.

I'm a 97% introvert male 22 year old. I've lived with a number of different roommates at work sites and I am living with my parents right now. Living alone would have been preferable in every case. I might enjoy living in an EA or rationalist household, though.

Read Krapp's Last Tape. It's one of the greatest things Beckett wrote, and is only two pages long.

Heed its warning.

I read your link. Here is what I got from it.

There are three ways to write a novel.

1)Hemingway/Melville: Do stuff, write about it.

2)Kaleidoscope: Study literature at university. Read more novels. Go to writers' workshops. Read yet more novels. Write a million words of juvenilia. Read even more novels. Create mash-up master piece.

3)Irish: Sit in public house, drinking. Write great Irish Novel. How? Miraculously!

Beckett propagandizes against the Irish way, saying "My character, Krapp, tried the Irish way. He tried to helped the miracle along with lots of self-obsession. It worked out badly for him; it will work out badly for you."

My parents think that I don't work at all, and I prefer to keep it that way, at least, until I achieve some measure of financial success.

I'm trying to answer this, but I can't help feeling like is overly arbitrary. I've lived with family, but which family? I've lived alone, but how alone? I might have lived with friends, or not, how do you define "friend"? What about living situations that are not covered by those categories, such as living with a lover, or living with coworkers?

This question seems meaningless to me without a lot more specificity.

I'm an introvert from Barranquilla, a forgettable town near the Atlantic coast of Colombia. At age 26 I finally managed to move out from my parents' house to Bogotá, the capital city. In half a year I was able to get a nice apartment with two other friends. Life there involved a rotating cast of friends who also needed to leave their parents but eventually moved on with their lives. I've been happier with my friends than I ever was with my parents. But some days have been happier than others, and some friends have been better company than others.

I started living alone, then with 3 other friends (ran into problems in 3 - 4 months) and now with only 1 other friend.

My current flat-mate is a reasonable person, not much chit-chat but a cat helped to warm the intra-house athmosphere.

Before this, we lived in a really beautiful house (nice terrace, BBQ potential etc) but the whole thing went sour when one person decided to change his lifestyle in a couple of days. It certainly wasn't fun, but the house was nice. We all had large space to ourselves, but with only 2 people a smaller house still gives enough space per person.

When I lived completely alone, I slacked and became productive in a cyclic pattern, upping productivity come midterm times, slacking at the ends of exams etc.

In all those times (except a few months in a tense house last year) I had weekly visitors, a trio of people plus whomever else I know occasionaly. I really like visitors, but this whole series of living "at my home" made me a kind of recluse. I'd rather have people in the house, rather than go out to meet them.

I'd love to try out the kind of environment Vika talked about, a rationalist house sounds like a pretty nice place to change things about myself with the help of socially helpful people having (hopefully) less than average inferential distances between.