Some highlights from the essay “How to Want Less” by Arthur C. Brooks in The Atlantic.
Homeostasis keeps us alive and healthy. But it also explains why drugs and alcohol work as they do, as opposed to how we wish they would…It’s why, when you achieve conventional, acquisitive success, you can never get enough. If you base your sense of self-worth on success—money, power, prestige—you will run from victory to victory, initially to keep feeling good, and then to avoid feeling awful.
My thought: Like the two factory theory of motivation and hygiene, success (especially monetarily) may help you be less dissatisfied (being impoverished is hard), but the absence of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction.
“The nature of [adaptation] condemns men to live on a hedonic treadmill,” the psychologists Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell wrote in 1971, “to seek new levels of stimulation merely to maintain old levels of subjective pleasure, to never achieve any kind of permanent happiness or satisfaction.”
Professional self-objectification is a tyranny every bit as nasty. You become a heartless taskmaster to yourself, seeing yourself as nothing more than Homo economicus. Love and fun are sacrificed for another day of work, in search of a positive internal answer to the question Am I successful yet? We become cardboard cutouts of real people.
We become cardboard cutouts of real people is an amazingly clear description of what the current form of meritocracy, conventional “acquisitive success,” and social media has wrought.
In truth, our formula, Satisfaction = getting what you want, leaves out one key component. To be more accurate, it should be: Satisfaction = what you have ÷ what you want
Our mental state rests in the balance between reality and expectation/desire.
It is the wanting, for which there is always more, that binds us to the Sisyphean futility of the hedonic treadmill.
And getting off is hard.