In this article Mark Manson ruminates about the joys of ordinary life. Some of the examples he gives impart another lesson – pleasure and pain are relative. An ordinary cup of tea on an ordinary morning would taste like the best thing in the world when you have experienced a debilitating illness previously. On the other hand – a life full of novelties and exciting things, would sound jaded after a while.
This is a very well known phenomenon in cognitive psychology. Most of our subjective feelings are relative. We may feel that having a million dollars would inherently be better than having ten thousand dollars – at it would be for a brief while, but not for long. Once one get used to it – the subsequent experience may depend on how one perceives the new experience with respect to the older one. And since any addition to a million dollar may be tougher than any addition to ten thousand dollar, it is entirely possible that the person who has ten thousand dollars would be happier.
This answers the question about rich people being depressive – you may find more suicides with the rich than with the poor. It also tells one about the need to show off your experiences – it is a way to convince yourself about the pleasure you have derived from the experience. Daniel Gilbert sites extreme examples of Lottery winners vs People who have lost a body part to highlight this point. He gives a reason why we as human beings have developed this tendency. It is akin to a psychological thermostat. An ability to keep our level of well being moderated. Just like the immune system that tries to keep the body out of the external danger by creating temporary discomfort, the psychological immune systems creates discomfort in the interest of the long term benefit of the individual.
The simple and plain lesson from this is that you will not be permanently happy, even if your wildest dreams were to materialize today. If you get that mansion, that fancy sports car or that coveted awards – you never know whether that would add a long term joy or sadness to your life. If you take these possessions too seriously, it would certainly mean sadness in the long run. So, the contradictory message is to not care about what we see as the extreme forms of achievements. “So, then, what’s the fun in chasing those achievements?”, one may ask. That question is completely valid and the self evident answer it provides is also true. The real fun in chasing achievements is the chase – the moment to moment exhilaration that one feels in the chase. The learning one undergoes. The moment to moment pleasure and pain that one faces.
Here is where a quote from the Isha Upanishad may be apt. The Upanishad says “Tyen Tyakten Bhujintha”. Experience everything, but with an emotion of detachment. Some might see this as a contradiction. How can you experience when there is this detachment. Experience, by its definition is involvement in a thing. And that involvement runs against the spirit of detachment.
That again is the thinking in terms of binaries. Just as we realize that pleasure and pain are intertwined and chasing one excessively is bound to bring the other in the picture, experience and detachment are the two sides of the same coin. You really can not have one if the other is not there. This basic understanding of how dualities work forms the core of leading a life of satisfaction. It is the understanding of a measured approach to everything – to pleasure and pain, and to involvement and detachment.
That approach also validates Mark’s original point. If there is bound to be a binary in every achievement, what’s wrong in treating daily life with reverence. And again the answer is obvious. There is nothing wrong. In fact, that is the appropriate approach to life. Once we realize the joys of a daily life, the whole seeking and running after things would come to and end. Daily moments would be the beginning and end of the chase and in fact, there would be no chase.