I’m thankful that our lives are not set in stone and a little positive change can go a long way to improve quality of life. Over time a little positive change build upon itself resulting in a pretty significant difference over the years (like compounding interest). This is particularly true during periods with a high degree of volatility (beta coefficient in finance) like birth or the post school starting careers and families transition. I presume there are also volatile life changes during times for older folks like empty nesting, retirement, and death or divorce of a partner but I don’t really understand those moments being younger and lacking foresight.

I’ve made some charts.

Here we have the basic life timeline for a typical American. The circles indicate moments of high volatility. The first one is birth. If you’re born into a wealthy family American your quality of life trajectory is entirely different than if you were born into an impoverished family in Afghanistan. On a subtler level the trajectory of the people who raise you is your trajectory initially. More on that later.

First let’s take a look at the transition into adulthood and how these trajectories work.

What’s inside that circle that can make such a difference in a person’s life? Long term commitments.  Marriage is in that circle and they last on average about 7 years but are in theory for life. Children are in there which last in theory 18 years + the age difference between your oldest and youngest but that’s probably closer to 22 -25 years + the age difference. Your career theoretically is 30ish years then retirement but retirement is out of reach for many working people so it may be 50+ years.

Generally, folks take on all of these commitments at approximately the same time.

It’s pretty far from ideal that people make these life choices without the benefit of life experience. But it does create an opportunity to make difference in the life of a person.  If folks can make these choices from a position of strength (get an advanced education, find a quality rather than convenient life partner, stay out of crippling debt, have the time to find a rewarding career, etc) rather than a position of weakness the compounding interest on those decisions pays off significantly over a life time. So if you can help a person during the transitional points in life you should know that the real benefits of your interventions will manifest over decades. If you’re in that transitional period take the time to make good choices.

The space between the green line and the horizontal axis is quality of life profit derived from being in a better position and making better choices during that transition. Likewise the area between the horizontal and the blue line is quality of life loss.  It may not look like there is much difference between the two while in that transition circle but over time the difference is very significant.

Over generations the difference is even more pronounced. Children raised by folks on the green path reach their own transition times at a better position of strength than the folks raised by people on the blue line. The derivatives of the choices pay significant social dividends. So helping a person in that transitional period into adulthood pays also helps the next generation of people.

This kind of intervention not only is effective on the individual and family level but it works on the national and global level as well.

Taking a look in this graph you can see that from 1949 (when my father was born) to today (when my theoretical children could be born) the global extreme poverty rate has dropped from 75% to less than 10% and when my theoretical grand children are born the only place on earth with extreme poverty will be history books.  I’m thankful that I won’t have to explain it to them.

I’m thankful that our lives can get better and that our world can too.