2018-04-18

Sunk Costs; Don't Worry, Be Happy

David Henderson recounts an airline experience that could have made him upset. It could have, but it didn't, because Henderson elected to have a good attitude about it. Missing a flight is loss enough; missing it and then getting angry about it is a double loss.

As he puts it,
I could have got all pissy and woe-is-me about the cancelled flight, but what's the point? Then I would have paid for it twice: by missing a meal I had been looking forward to with some faculty and by having a fit. The loss due to the cancelled flight is a sunk cost.
When I have taught sunk cost in the past, I would sometimes remind my students of the expression "Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk." Then I would say that that wasn't quite the right expression. Maybe you need to cry, but recognize that it's spilt and that you can't get it back.
Now I think it's an apt expression. The crying over the missed flight would, as noted above, have added to the cost.

I learned a similar lesson about sunk costs while traveling on Greyhound buses in my college days. At least on the routes I used to travel, these buses are extremely slow, and connections are often late.

I remember traveling from Utah to California to see my sister. We made a stop/connection in Reno, Nevada and the connecting line hadn't arrived yet. It was hours late, and angry people were lining up at the customer service counter to... do something. Complain, mostly.

The sun had just risen. I was eating a breakfast bar and drinking a cup of coffee. I did not have to go to work that day. I had a good book. I was on vacation. I just sat down on a bench with my breakfast and my book and decided to enjoy myself.  It's not always pleasant riding a Greyhound bus, but it doesn't have to be miserable.