The Real Reasons You’re Never Satisfied

My friend has dreamt of getting a book deal for her whole life. She’s worked for over a decade — from high school to college, from college to her first job, from her first job to her second job — to get that book deal.

She worked tirelessly on nights and weekends for months on her proposal and her query letter so she could get an agent.

And then last week she got an agent.

She was so happy…for about three hours. And then she wanted a publisher. Not just a any publisher, a big publisher. And she doesn’t just want to publish a book she wants to publish a bestseller.

Her wants and needs keep escalating. The happiness gleaned from one accomplishment slowly fades to reveal the insatiable need for the next.

We’re hardwired to never be satisfied. It’s evolutionary psychology 101. Historically, if you didn’t conform to the group and contribute to its prosperity, you would likely die.

However that’s no longer the case today. Survival of the fittest no longer means the weak dies out. Because of medical advances, industrial infrastructure and social services, it’s much easier to survive today than ever before.

But your biology doesn’t know that. Your biology lags behind your brain by generations. Your biology’s only concern is safety and reproduction — While your brain seeks more. Now it’s become the survival of the most successful.

Today, you don’t need to be a proficient hunter to survive, but you do need to be a proficient hunter to maintain your social status.

We’re socially conditioned to keep up with the Jones’. But when do, we spiral out of control into the depths of chronic dissatisfaction.

But is that a bad thing?

Some dissatisfaction is healthy. It keeps you motivated.

It’s dissatisfaction with the status quo that has led to advancements in science, technology and business that have created wealth and improved our daily lives.

Was Elon Musk satisfied with his success at PayPal when he decided to start SpaceX and Solar City?

“Going from PayPal, I thought: ‘Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?’”

If Elon Musk was satisfied, we might not be able to travel to Mars or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

That dark side of satisfaction is complacency.

Picture the Zen monk, meditating all day. While he likely has a smile on his face, it’s taken him years of practice to get there, and he probably still has moments where he feels like he’s not accomplishing enough.

Picture the surfer dude who lives by the beach and works at a tiki bar just to fund his love for surfing.

For some, these lifestyles are perfectly satisfactory. But for others, dissatisfaction will rear it’s ugly head.

The dark side of dissatisfaction is insatiable want.

We seek external validation because historically, if we didn’t conform, we died. It wasn’t enough to gain happiness from within.

Instead, we end up desperately seeking the next accomplishment and the dopamine hit that comes with it. Desperately chasing our overachieving peers — Never feeling happy or accomplished.

You chase and you chase — and when you finally capture, you find something more to chase.

Reversion to the mean.

You get used to where you are. What makes you happy makes you less happy. What makes you unhappy makes you less unhappy.

I’m used to eating canned tuna. What would probably make most people living a middle class lifestyle miserable, I’ve grown quite accustomed to. My girlfriend calls it my Great Depression lunch. But my cheap habits don’t make me unhappy anymore.

You get used to wherever you are.

You want more money in the bank. And then when you get money in the bank you want more money in the bank. Or something else all together.

You solve the problem of feeling unsafe financially, or getting a fancy house, and another problem is created. You’ve ignored your family. Or now you have to manage your money and your belongings. The problems may be “first world” but our biology doesn’t know the difference. There’s always something to worry about.

Know Thyself: Find your balance between motivation and complacency.

It’s a lot more fun to read that you can do whatever you sent your mind to. Which is probably why so many self-help gurus have made millions telling you so.

But the harsh reality that we refuse to accept is that people are different.

Even though you know you’ve accomplished a lot, there’s someone else who’s accomplished more.

However, that person is different than you. That person might be more intelligent or more hardworking than. Or they may have problems in their life that you don’t have. They might be completely lonely while you’re in a loving marriage.

It’s critical to know your strengths and abilities and have reasonable goals. What can you reasonably expect to accomplish?

If you set your happiness sites on yachts but you don’t have the ability to focus on a given task for more than five minutes, you’re not likely to be able to achieve it — rendering your unhappiness inevitable.

When your happiness sites are within YOUR potential, you find balance between motivation and complacency.

When your happiness comes from within, your happiness is omnipresent.

How to Be Happy…At Least a Little.

The sick part of it all is that you probably won’t ever stop feeling like what you have isn’t enough. It’s human nature.

So you can whine about it on Medium like I’m doing now. Or you can channel it.

Either accept that you’ll never be happy and keep trying to win — and maybe someday after you make your billions you will be — or be happy where you are.

Let unhappiness be your mean. And then let that mean be happiness.


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