The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

Go ahead, reward yourself

Whenever we begin wondering why we’re in college or get stuck in one of those all too familiar “What am I doing with my life” conundrums, we try to focus on the payoff.

Sometimes, this means dreaming of a Fifth Avenue apartment and a corner office with leather sofas. More often than not, however, it’s not the long-term compensation that we’re after — it’s the immediate reward. Personally, I consider myself a positive reinforcement master, using rewards of Oreos, sushi or Facebook to get me from one assignment to the next.

And for most of us, Thursday through Sunday is our reward for the work we do during the week.

When “it’s Friday (Friday)” we follow the alcohol gospel that pop culture preaches, swaying along Franklin to the hymns of the rewarded. “I’m going out because I deserve to go out,” we slur. For those few hours, we get to live the life of Ke$ha and stumble around without a care in the world.

If weekends really are a reward for our effort during the week, it stands to reason that we’re working hard to deserve it.

But some think we aren’t. There’s evidence that students have shifted their time from their learning to their leisure. And, according to Philip Babcock, an economics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, we’re spending more time than ever on leisure.

He found a 10-hour decline in time spent studying outside of class for full-time students at four-year universities between 1961 and the 2000s. Because the majority of study time declined between 1961 and 1981 — well before the most significant advances in technology — he blames the universities that are “marketing themselves as safe havens for fun and recreation.”

College students everywhere seem to be living in the moment and neglecting the long run. Sure, psychologist Abraham Maslow would say we have to fulfill our basic needs of food and companionship before we can achieve the upper parts of his proverbial hierarchical pyramid. Therefore, if we only focus on the short-term reward, we are going to be stuck at the bottom. We’ll never reach Maslow’s tip of self-actualization.

But we may appreciate the intrinsic value of studying more than the academic outsiders — who stereotype us as dedicated partiers — might think. Fortunately, a recent study, “Sweets, Sex or Self-Esteem,” suggests that young people have a compulsion to feel good about themselves that overwhelms and precedes other desires. “Given the choice, young, bright college students said they’d rather get a boost to their ego — like a compliment or good grade on a paper — than eat a favorite food or engage in sex.”

To me, this means that we might not have lost focus of our goals like Babcock’s study suggests.

Sure, typical college life may appear wild and crazy to the general public, but it’s nice to know that we still recognize the bigger picture. The rewards may just be doing what they’re supposed to, and for the most part, our values aren’t skewed by what some think of as excessive reward.

So until our rewards for our hard work actually start distorting our goals: Bottoms up, UNC.

Hinson Neville is a columnist for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a freshman business major from Roanoke Rapids. Contact him at nevilleh@email.Unc.Edu.

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