The good life appears to be straightforward: acquire what makes you happy, Job, home, car spouse and retirement. Pursue with everything you can muster and when you have arrived relax and enjoy your benefits. There is a slight problem, however: there isn’t a trace of evidence suggesting that higher earnings or more material goods will translate into joy or fulfillment. In fact, it’s often the opposite. With each acquisition, the threat looms that our prized possession will be taken away. We become tense and grasp for more.
Humans evolved to react in ways that would constantly make life easier or more comfortable – it’s our nature. Today, however, technology has managed to outpace that primal instinct. The result is that we are still scanning our environment for things to be uncomfortable, unhappy, or unsatisfied with, even though historically this is the safest and easiest time to have ever lived.
Our minds are hardwired to trick us. We salivate at the car, the boat or the lavish home but the feeling that occurs when we actually get them never seems to live up to our expectations. After the initial dopamine rush, the pleasure dissipates. We become bored, or worse, resentful that we thought this thing could actually make us happy. So our brain tells us to go get more.
The saddest part is that our conscious mind is fully aware of this cycle, we often know that what we want is not going to produce what we really desire. Many people, from Socrates to Jesus to modern psychologists, have warned us about the futility of self-indulgence. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to stick with us in meaningful ways.
The idea that just one more dollar, one more rung on the ladder will leave us feeling sated reflects a misunderstanding about human nature. We are designed to feel that the next great goal will bring joy, but the bliss received from such actions is very temporary.
The process that created us is the same one that, paradoxically, torments us. It places us in a vicious, frustrating, emotional cycle of desire, consumption, and confusion. But slow through acknowledging this energy and the cycles it puts through, we can break from that mode of operation and perception. We can and should look elsewhere for our happiness so our world view can be in line with reality, not fantasy, not wishful thinking, not grandiose. We should accept that our dissatisfaction derives from that context.
Imagine no ideology, none. Of any kind. Yet we remain civilized, cooperative, perhaps even more so now that there are no ideologies to debate. Our satisfaction to just being alive would be more appreciated and run deeper through the moments that make up our days. Happiness is a choice and a skill, and we can dedicate ourself to learning that skill and making that choice.
Peace and Love, Jim