The Key to Life: Want What You Have

Do you have what you want? Or do you want what you have? 

If you were offered everything you’ve ever wanted, are you sure you would take it? 

Jim Carrey said,  “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Jim is one example of many who achieved his wildest dreams, and then realized, “Hmm, I thought life would be a whole lot better after that, but it’s not really.” There’s nothing wrong with success, and it is worth striving for if you want it, but you must be aware of the hedonic treadmill.

The Hedonic Treadmill Goes Nowhere

The hedonic treadmill is a dastardly device. You get on, and start running as fast as you can to get the things you want. And you get some of them! But as you collect more and more of them, you continue to see more of them in the distance. Suddenly, this awesome thing you have isn’t as interesting, because there’s an even shinier thing over there! Eventually, you realize that you’ve been on a treadmill the whole time, and haven’t actually moved forward.

Dan Bilzerian created the bachelor’s dream life for himself. He has the money, cars, and women that many men covet. He said in an interview, “The one thing about spending money and doing a lot of pleasure buying is that it just ups that bar. When I got out of the military, going to Outback Steakhouse was like a 10. So now, I can’t get to a 10 anymore. If I go to the best restaurant in the world, I’m at a six.”

The hedonic treadmill is named such because the person never arrives at pleasureville. They may experience pleasure constantly in their pursuits, but they never really get there. Nobody can arrive at that one experience or state of mind that satisfies the need for more. They keep running, hoping the next hit of pleasure can temporarily satisfy their insatiable thirst.

The great risk of getting what you want is getting addicted to that feeling and getting on the hedonic treadmill. There’s a better way.

Want What You Have

Most of us don’t have everything we want, and that’s a good thing. While the hedonic treadmill is a frustrating “chasing after the wind” as King Solomon would say, the nature of life is that of a journey. It’s actually preferred that we never “arrive” until we die, because death is the only and final destination in life. Until then, we’re always learning, moving forward, and enjoying ourselves as best we can.

That brings us to a different, and much better question.

Do you want everything you have? 

Not only can this be answered “yes,” but it completely reverses the perspective that the first question injects into the reader’s brain. When you ask someone if they have everything they want, you ask them to search for and focus on incomplete areas in their lives. It’s like asking someone what’s wrong with their thighs. Before you asked that question, they weren’t thinking about their thighs. They had no problem with their thighs. But now they are scrutinizing their thighs and are sure to find something they dislike! As they say, let thighs be thighs.

When you ask someone if they want everything they have, you give them an opportunity to express satisfaction, the kind of satisfaction that’s impossible to achieve on the hedonic treadmill. Life gets better the instant you start asking yourself this question.

There are hundreds of millions of cats in the world. I have two of them. My two furpanions (I emailed Merriam-Webster; this will be a word by Saturday) bring me so much joy, snuggles, and laughter every day. I could think about whether I should have more or fewer cats, or if my cats are really the best two in the world, but why? They’re awesome and I love them.

Our problem isn’t that we can’t fathom these concepts, our problem is that we apply them inconsistently. We might be satisfied with our cats, but unsatisfied with our jobs. We might be satisfied with our career, but unsatisfied with our love life. What can we do about that?

Zoom Out and See New Angles

If you aren’t satisfied with an area of your life, take whatever action(s) you can to improve it. Of course. But it’s also possible that you are on the hedonic treadmill and need to take another look at it.

Unsatisfied customers needn’t fill out a comment card, they just need to look harder for the positives. This will be my restaurant slogan and we will go out of business. It is, however, effective on an individual level. 

Let’s start with your life. You are unhappy with [complaints go here]. We have this long list of negatives now, but like a good photographer, we are going to use new angles and a zoom lens to see something different.

Zooming in on your situation and zooming out on the world’s situation, you can find some hidden blessings that your brain has dismissed as normal. 

For example, the World Health Organization says that one in three people don’t have access to safe drinking water. A lot of people die from it. Every minute, a newborn dies from it. 

Trust me, I’m the last person to throw the wet guilt towel on people. And it’s even a little bit cliche to say it, but it’s true. A lot of people want what YOU have. I’m not trying to make you feel bad, I’m telling you that you’re very fortunate if you have clean water, among other things. Cherish it. I’ve always had clean and safe water to drink, and I admit I take it for granted at times.

Regardless of your situation, there are good things to find. Forget the hedonic treadmill, you can want what you have now. It doesn’t prevent you from getting even more things you want, it simply allows you to enjoy what you already have.

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