What if your life was one big cartoon show? One moment you are sad. And in the next a Genie pops out of the blue, waves abra-cadabra and poof. You’re flying on a pink unicorn through the land of everlasting bliss feeling satisfied in life.
For argument, let us say a Genie grant your wishes. You’ve shiny your Lambos, gigantic houses that make primary schools wet their pants and watches that cost over $7000 that shows nothing but time.
Now is that it? Can you live with this happily ever after? Now that a genie has granted your wishes, would you stop wishing for more?
We’re so engrossed in achieving what we want, we never bother to think what happens next. How would I feel after I get my dream job/ car/ house/ whatever for that matter? What will I do after that?
I’m proposing an argument. You won’t be satisfied in life no matter how successful or wealthy you are. And I’ll prove it to you why. Let’s start with the question,
Why do humans find it difficult to find contentment with what we have?
The everlasting need for more
This constant need for more isn’t exactly your problem, but (kind-of) our species problem. Looking into a few psychological factors would help in understanding this.
Pop-quiz time… Who do you think would be happier?
a. Lottery winners?
b. Accident victims?
It’s lottery winners, right? But in a study conducted by Northwestern University shows that both accident victims and lottery winners experienced the same level of happiness right after a year of the occurrence of the event.1
But how is this possible?
Thanks to hedonic adaptation, the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events. In simpler terms, there’s no exceptional state of eternal bliss that we crave for.
Neither your promotion nor your vacation is gonna make you feel satisfied in life forever.
Though vacations and promotions make you happy, you’ll soon get tired of those and crave for more. This is the reason why your fifth day of holidays isn’t so enjoyable as the first one.
Your brain works like a muscle. It adapts itself to the external stimuli it’s subjected to. Smoking is a great example.
You start smoking a cigarette. After a few months of smoking, your brain gets adapted to the stimuli, and it gets less sensitive to a single cigar. Smoking one in the evenings isn’t enough. So you get a nicotine fix early in the morning as soon as in you wake up.
Now with time, the brain adapts once again, and you add one more cigar in the afternoon. One becomes two, then three… These are the stepping stones for chain-smoking. 2This applies to any sort of addictive stuff like drugs, alcohol and even entertainment. The point is
Higher the consumption (consistently) = Decrease in brain’s sensitivity to that particular activity.
This explains the cause of addictions and the need for a change. (in materialistic terms, Ex: When you live in a house with no sorts of renovation long enough, you find the inherent need to change or renovate your home. Your brain thinks that buying/ shifting to a new house makes you happy. But in reality, all you crave is for a small spike in dopamine. Give what your brain wants your pain fades away. This is what I’ve been experiencing recently in my own life)
A more real-life example is pandemic holidays.
Students like us were happy when the holidays for a month were announced. But as soon as holidays were extended to 3 – 6 more months, the happiness levels went down. Holidays were no longer enjoyable as it used to be due to sensory adaptation.
Survivorship bias is our brain focusing on people or things that passed some kind of selection process, ignoring the rest. Now how does this create a constant dissatisfaction within you?
COMPARISON. Many influencers portray their “Ideal problem-free” lives on social platforms which we may tend to associate as, fame and fortune = Happy life. Here we fail to look at two things,
- The shit that fame drags along with it.
- People who are happy with a no amount of fame and a decent income to sustain their family.
As Ryan Holiday puts it – Along with extreme success comes extreme costs …3
It’s not just materialism, fame or success. Nothing could ever make you feel satisfied in life. Recognition for your work, social validation, pleasure… We just can’t have enough. This makes me think,
Why did nature embed this dumb emotion into our dumber brains?
Evolutionary benefits of not being satisfied in life
From an evolutionary perspective, humans are designed to be dissatisfied. Contentment = letting our guard down = lesser chances of survival.
If our foraging ancestors felt contended and slept like a koala after having a hearty meal, there’s a higher chance,
a. They’re gonna get eaten by something else.
b. They’re gonna lose lots of hunting opportunities.
c. They’re gonna starve to death
As humans are designed to survive and reproduce like other animals, contentment was out of the discussion. If humans were to be contented, I wouldn’t have existed in the first place, sitting under a comforting fan, with my back crooked like an archer’s bow, eyeballs in the verge of popping out, typing random shit on the internet. Neither would you.
Have you ever had the feeling that ‘you’re wasting your life?’ after bingeing multiple shows and playing video games for hours on end? A desire to get better in life or improve yourself?
This drive stems out of the dissatisfaction we experience, after a long time of numbing ourselves with entertainment and appealing food.
This craving makes us grow, become better and most importantly be humans.
Balancing your cravings
It’s pretty clear that we aren’t satisfied with anything and that’s totally okay. It’s not wrong to want more, but tying your happiness to some arbitrary goal gets you nowhere. Because conquering one mountain becomes the starting point of another one.
[picture of climbing with continuous mountains]
As the clinical psychologist, Dr Rubin Khoddam puts it – Think about where you are in your climb: Have you reached the top of one mountain and are now enjoying the view, or are you already preparing for the next climb? Maybe you’re in the middle of your climb and struggling to make it through. Wherever you are, you can enjoy the view. There’s something worth seeing from every point in your journey.
- “Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1978, Vol. 36, No. 8, 917-927.
- Nicotine Dependence – Nicotine produces pleasing effects in your brain, but these effects are temporary. So you reach for another cigarette. The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good.
- The Most Successful people are the ones you’ve never heard of – Along with extreme success comes extreme costs — it is often an all-consuming drive that draws one to the spotlight…and inevitably to dark places as well.