“A true saying it is: Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.”
That was written by St. Augustine b. 353AD, d. 430AD, as cited by Robert Burton in his 1621 work titled, Anatomy of Melancholy. He was talking about what is known as the hedonic treadmill, also the hedonic adaption. It’s the theory that as a person makes more money, expectations rise in tandem, which results in no personal gain in happiness.
Originally this belief and theory posited that humans are able to achieve a happiness set point in their life. Despite events that occur we reach an equilibrium; a place where we’re happy or content. You can research online and find a lot of academic, sometimes seemingly abstract, clinical discussion and debate about hedonic adaption. I have witnessed that some people also reach an unhappiness set point in their life, a misery treadmill or misery adaption if you will. Whether unhappy because what we have is not enough or unhappy because we’re unsuccessful, we—for whatever reasons or excuses—can become stuck where we are. Because most humans—as Burton describes the compelling power of desire to drive them—are running in place.
Despite some of us having all we actually need, we want more… so we run harder and the treadmill’s hum and thrum—vibrating at the higher pace and pounding—drowns out our world. Despite wanting to keep up with someone or catch something just ahead of us, we make few if any changes and always feel behind.
Some of us might be running from the past, from circumstances or to escape the present. But again, we make few if any changes and just don’t get any separation. Whatever it is, remains on our heels.
And a point is reached where we feel that we live inside M.S. Escher’s work titled, Relativity. Whether we go up or down makes no difference. Up is always ahead of us with another set of stairs to climb and down just keeps going. A sense that they all lead to nowhere begins to grow.
But—and it’s a big one, and I cannot lie—I contend (and know its truth from experience) that much of life comes down to the whether.
Whether we orient ourselves—honestly gaging where we’re at—and if we’re not happy or not satisfied… whether we do something about it. Whether we do this or do that… or—and I think it, except in unusual situations, the poorest choice—we do nothing.
Only we can make ourselves climb on that treadmill and go go go until we’re exhausted spiritually. If we’re unhappy, only we can let that remain so. Only we can stop and not just lament where we are, but also set a direction with a destination. Only we can look at—and appreciate—what we have and say, “This makes me happy.”
Understand that this does not mean to settle for less. Every human should strive for all that they can achieve through personal effort using what skills and intelligence they have available. I do mean that we must have a healthy measure of self-awareness and look at all things in perspective.
A (small) example: I’m bald and started losing my hair in my mid- to late 20s. Nothing short of some—actual, tested and proven—medical miracle is going to bring it back. While I regret that, I also know it matters little in the big picture of my life. I’ve never had the slightest interest in hair pieces, comb-overs or surgical solutions. I am who and what I am (when it comes to hair follicles). And that fact has never made a dent in how I see myself and what makes me happy.
“YOUTH and beauty fade flesh sags. We lose some of the very things that made us who we are… but inside we are still young. Still handsome and beautiful. Always who we were as we created who we are. As we age, we’re always two versions of ourselves: the person from our youth part of which is always inside and who we are in the present today. And of course, there are thoughts beyond—of the third version looming—who we are tomorrow next month next year and on to when corporeal existence ends.” –Me
What makes us happy is what’s inside… how we feel about who we are and what’ve done. And a large part of that is shaped by our experiences past—present—future. You can’t change the past, you can have an impact on the present and most assuredly can follow this advice from Abraham Lincoln that: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
When you realize that and try it in real-time, in the real world, you will understand how powerful it is.
I’m not naïve. Life is not simple. The challenges we all face at points in our life—for some they’re daily—run the scale from easy to seemingly insurmountable. We’ve all got shit to deal with, and there is not a one size fits all solution. Everyone’s situation and circumstances are different. They’re personal. There are reasons for why things are as they are for all us. But there are also excuses we create that are nothing but a way to rationalize, divert blame, to procrastinate or to plainly just not take responsibility.
Reading what I’ve written here is not going to solve anything for you.
But—and I speak as someone who has had to deal with all that Rudyard Kipling put in his poem IF (suggested reading if you’ve never read it) and more—I know that you have the power to make changes to improve your life.
Don’t let worry about whether you’ll succeed or fail stop you.
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” –J.K Rowling
Don’t let whether others will approve or disapprove stop you.
“People striving for approval from others become phony.” –Ichiro Suzuki
Remember it’s your life. It’s whether you want what you want, what you want it to realistically be… bad enough.