For all of our material wealth, the US is dismally unhappy.
Even Disney World is not so much “happiest place on earth” as it is a stressful chase for the next dopamine hit.
In the words of marketing savant, Seth Godin, “…the occasional [Disney World] visitor has far less fun than you might expect. That’s because, without habits, every decision requires attention. And attention is exhausting.”
Disney is a classic example of “The Paradox of Choice”; within every new opportunity there is mounting FOMO (fear of missing out). That is, there’s a significant opportunity cost to doing this not that. You’re leaving tomorrow, what are you going to skip? What if it’s not worth the line? What are you missing?
The entire experience is fraught with potential downside. We feel the failure of a bad choice in advance, long before we discover whether or not it was actually bad.
And even if we have an *awesome* experience… might it have been better, over there?
And it’s not just Disneyworld. It’s now the whole of the “advanced” world. Especially, so it seems, the US.
Another example: ask a single friend what the dating world is like these days. Not that being married is all that much easier.
Every date with a new potential is a date not spent with some other “swipe right”. Every decision about what to write in social media is enervating. How many likes will it get? You know you should make personal connection, but that’s so *slow*. And messy. The potential drama! And what if that time (or person) is… dull?
It’s in our wiring to “seek”. To constantly scan the horizon. To be on the lookout for food, shelter, potential danger.
I don’t know what the tipping point is, but I do know that, collectively, we’ve far exceeded it.
Let’s look at an ordered list of what drives behavior in the first world:
- Fear (masked by “success”)
- Cognitive load (and the desire for habit and ease)
- Greed (fueled by fear and perceived lack)
- Generosity/connection (love)/tribe
Or, as Will Smith’s character (Howard) in Collateral Beauty sums it up: love, time and death.
These elements are in eternal dance. And it’s the aim of marketing to employ behavioral economics to nudge us to trade one for the other.
Over and over and over again. We’re never satisfied. It’s the human condition amplified by the environment of the “human zoo”.
That we’re never satisfied is, of course, why our culture isn’t stable. We regularly build systems to create habits that lower the cognitive load, but then, curiosity amplified by greed and fear kick in and the whole cycle starts again.
Which begs the question: what IS this ever elusive “satisfaction”? And how will we know when we find it?
I can only tell you what I’ve found. What I’ve seen in the most centered and content people I know.
They aim for satisfaction, and let happiness come and go as it will.
Happiness is fleeting, no matter the situation. Here one minute, gone the next. Enjoy it while it’s here, but know that, like the tide, it will ebb. Driven not so much by the actual situation, but your reaction to the situation.
More on this in a later post, but satisfaction is the solid oak that sprouts from the seed of gratitude. Both of which are within your control.
Satisfaction, then, is a habit that can be cultivated.
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –