‘Happiness: Lessons from a new science’ is written by Richard Layard, an acclaimed economist who founded the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. Despite his area of specialism, in the book, he argues that economists have an over-simplistic notion of how money can make people happier, and they need to learn from modern psychology when computing how material rewards can give people a happier life. On page 141 of the book, there is a sentence that reminds me of a personal experience. Layard asserts: “Excessive focus on financial rewards can undermine that very professional pride.”
Two years ago, I was invited by Ming Pao to adjudicate in a book report writing competition for primary and lower secondary students. I considered it an honour and gladly took on the task, though it was purely non-remunerative.
A year later when Ming Pao organised the same competition, they offered an honorarium of HKD2000, and I had to do a couple of extra things on top of the adjudicating. I turned down the invitation immediately.
I have always been intrigued by my different reactions to the two invitations. If I turned them down the second time round, was it because the remuneration was too small? But then why had I accepted the invitation on the first occasion when it was purely non-remunerative?
Of course, I have to admit I’m not a lotus eater. On the second occasion, had Ming Pao offered a larger honorarium, say HKD20,000 instead of HKD2000, would I have budged? I have to admit that there is a good chance that I would have!
So perhaps the lesson for people who have to deal with professionals is, as Layard has suggested, sometimes professional pride can be a greater motivator than financial rewards.