I’m reading The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary by Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. In it he writes, “Most of us feel proud of our achievements at first. When we learned to walk as toddlers, or successfully put multicoloured plastic rings on a post in size order, most of us felt pretty good about ourselves — and enjoyed showing off to anyone willing to watch. Remember how it felt to be able to catch a ball, ride a bike, or go to the store alone? How about graduating from grade school, high school or college? Having your first girlfriend or boyfriend? Getting a job or a driver’s license? Or perhaps getting married, renting an apartment, owning a car, buying a house, or having a child? Most of us work hard for these milestones and feel buoyed up when we reach them.
The problem is, we humans (like all creatures) habituate to everything. We become accustomed to having what we have, and our feelings about ourselves then go up or down from our new normal. I frequently offer trainings to mental health professionals, all of whom worked hard for their advanced degrees. I ask them, ‘Who woke up this morning feeling worthy and fulfilled because you have your professional degree?’ Everybody laughs. Occasionally, one newly minted therapist raises a hand, looks around dejectedly, and asks, ‘Why is everybody laughing?’ Ouch.”
He goes on to talk about the hedonic treadmill, running endlessly in pursuit of pleasure. He writes, “Even though we might otherwise be intelligent creatures, it’s easy not to notice how many of the things we pursue are subject to the hedonic treadmill. Have you ever had your income go up — perhaps because you got a new job or a promotion? Remember how good it felt to be able to buy the things you wanted, be financially more secure, and maybe even feel proud of your newfound affluence? What happened? As studies of lottery winners attest, it usually doesn’t take us long to return to our previous level of happiness.”
Are we running on a treadmill, looking for that next thing that will make us happy? Or are we able to find happiness right now, in the chaotic, imperfect mayhem that is life? What if we lived like we had all we needed? What if we lived like life didn’t last forever? Because it doesn’t.