Is a Bird in the Hand Worth two in the Bush?

A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, if you don't death it.

post March 24, 2017


According to the Bible, "A living dog is much better than a dead lion." (Ecclesiastes 9:4). The faster rendition the this proverb featuring birds rather of quadrupeds is to be found in Hugh Rhodes" Boke that Nature or school of manners (1530), and may have actually been influenced by mediaeval falconry. Its current form first appears in john Ray"s Hand-book the Proverbs (1670): "A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush." there is a similar proverb in the Czech language: "A sparrow in the fist is far better than a pigeon ~ above the roof." The proverb and its variants suggest that, offered the choice, the promise of much less is preferable come the opportunity of more.

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The famed Stanford marshmallow experiment, conducted on numerous mostly four- and also five-year-old children, involved a simple binary choice: one of two people eat this marshmallow, or hold earlier for 15 minutes and also be given a second one. Follow-up studies lugged out end 40 years found that the minority of kids who had actually been may be to organize out because that a 2nd marshmallow went on to enjoy significantly better life outcomes, including higher test scores, better social skills, and less substance misuse.

But what if the hold-up is much longer than 15 minutes—say, 15 or 30 years? and what if over there is only the possibility, however not the guarantee, that a 2nd marshmallow? The thinker Epicurus that Samos (341-270 BC) figured out happiness v the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain: pleasure, that argued, is the greatest good, and also anything else that is good is just so by virtue that the prompt or deferred pleasure the it deserve to procure. However, not everything that is pleasurable must be pursued, and not everything that is painful must be avoided. Instead, a type of hedonistic calculus have to be used to determine which things are most likely to an outcome in the greatest pleasure over time. If, because that example, mine blood sugars room so short that i am around to collapse, it would certainly make a lot an ext sense to eat the marshmallow quite than hold out for another.

Pleasure, claimed Epicurus, regularly arises indigenous the satisfaction that desire, and pain from its frustration. Thus, any type of desire should either it is in satisfied to productivity pleasure or removed to stop pain, and, overall, that is remove that must be preferred. Over there are, states Epicurus, three species of desires:

natural and also necessary desires such as those for food and also shelter i beg your pardon are an overwhelming to eliminate however naturally restricted and both easy and highly pleasurable to satisfy;natural but non-necessary desire such together those for high-end food and also accommodation; andvain desires such as those because that fame, power, or wide range which room inculcated by culture and which are not naturally limited and neither basic nor very pleasurable come satisfy.

Clearly, our avian proverb best applies to the very first of the 3 classes the desires.

But that is likewise pertinent come the other two in this sense. Future-orientation detracts native the existing moment, moving our focus from what we have and can gain to what us lack and cannot. In many cases, future-orientation is little more than a type of fear or greed, both of which room manifestations that insecurity. Gratitude, in contrast, is the feeling of appreciation for what we already have.

Studies have connected gratitude with enhanced satisfaction, motivation, and also energy; much better sleep and health; and reduced stress and sadness. ~ above a more spiritual level, gratitude disclosure consciousness, enthusiasm, joy, empathy, and tranquility, if protecting indigenous anxiety, sadness, loneliness, regret, and envy, with which that is essentially incompatible. Every this the does because it opens up us up onto a larger and much better perspective, shifting our focus from what we absence or strive because that to all that we currently have, come the bounty that surrounds us, and, above all, come life itself, i m sorry is the fount of every opportunity and possibility.

The finish verse native Ecclesiastes is:

For to him that is join to every the living over there is hope: because that a life dog is much better than a dead lion.

Seen in this light, a bird in the hand is precious much much more than two in the bush, if only you don"t strangle it.

Neel Burton is writer of For better For Worse and other books.


Neel Burton, M.D.

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, is a psychiatrist, philosopher, and also writer who lives and teaches in Oxford, England.