Perfect contentment leads to stagnation
Have a look at how so many of us live our lives. We get up in the morning, go out all day and work, work, work. Whether in a rich country or a poor one, a good neighbourhood or bad, you can be sure that most of the people around you will be working most of the time.
Yet many of us don't enjoy working. We whine about how boring or difficult our jobs are. We purchase labour-saving devices such as dishwashers and washing-machines. Many people wish they could win the lottery so they can save themselves from what they see as a life of drudgery.
Yet, at the same time, many people who appear to have everything are miserable. They wallow around in their big houses with their good looks and perfect health, eventually turning to drugs to fill what they see as an empty life.
Others who have more than anybody could possibly want - billionaires and the like - seem dissatisfied also. They work harder than ever to expand their empires and their influence.
Looking at all this, you have to wonder sometimes - just what the heck is it that we humans want from the world? Obviously material comfort alone isn't enough to satisfy us.
The answer seems to me that we want challenges. Not artificial ones, but real challenges - in love, in business, in health. But we want them in such a way that we feel we are capable of overcoming them.
Thus, the challenges that a poor, rural child in The Philippines faces - hunger, disease, exploitation - aren't the type we particularly want. But the challenges the rich have are desirable to us.
Becoming the most popular girl at school is a challenge that occupies many an American teenager. How to turn $10 billion into $20 billion is a challenge that fills the lives of some famous businessmen. Curiously, the rewards for completing these probably wouldn't be as satisfying, on a purely lifestyle level, as those of the poor child in the Philippines moving into a comfortable middle-class existence. But they provide meaning to living nevertheless. And they are cruel and ruthless - real challenges.
We all wish our problems would go away, but if they did so completely we'd probably find something missing from our lives. Perfect contentment leads to stagnation, and that is a psychological burden as large as many of the problems the world provides us with.
We are all, in many way, problem-solving machines. It's what we like to do. That's why we create seemingly pointless pursuits for ourselves - crossword puzzles, marathons, video games. We need something to challenge us in order to make us feel alive.
|Don't get sucked in by empty promises |
|I was at a work function last night where we were all getting treated to free drinks and food. There was a very attractive girl there who was enjoying the attention of many of the men.|
|Take the initiative in establishing new relationships |
|The world is filled with people who are dissatisfied with the state of their relationships. They think they haven't got enough others in their lives, or else they believe the others they have aren't up to scratch. Whether it's friendships that are missing or something more, a lack of satisfactory relationships is a common complaint.|
|Don't hate your body too much, it's the most amazing machine on the planet |
|We live in a society fixated on machines and gadgets. The media obsesses over iPods, BMWs, laptops and phones. And we consumers gobble up every titbit of information available on those topics.|
|Science is the closest thing to verifiable truth that we have |
|Wait! If you're the type of person who reads the word "science" in a title then moves quickly on, then this is an article you need to read. I promise it won't be boring.|
|Become excellent at creating new opportunities |
|The scouts have an excellent motto. It says simply “Be prepared”. Whether or not you have ever been a scout or a guide, this is a good attitude to have towards life.|
|Incompetent people tend to overestimate their skill level |
|Something interesting happens to me whenever I try to learn a new skill. I tend to underestimate just how hard it's going to be. For some reason, part of me thinks I'm going to be naturally talented at it, even though I have no evidence for that being the case.|
|We're all just lost at sea |
|Picture this. You wake up to find yourself aboard a huge old sailing boat. You can't remember who you are, or where you were before. You can't even remember what your name is.|
|Perfect contentment leads to stagnation |
|Have a look at how so many of us live our lives. We get up in the morning, go out all day and work, work, work. Whether in a rich country or a poor one, a good neighbourhood or bad, you can be sure that most of the people around you will be working most of the time.|
|Find the right balance between improving your situation and enjoying it |
|There's a funny scene in the film "Thank you for smoking" where the main character, a public relations shill for the cigarette industry, is asked how he can do such an unethical job. "Everyone's got to pay the mortgage", he replies.|
|The world's best investment |
|Many people don't think of it consciously, but much of our lives are spent deciding how to invest our resources. Families decide whether to move into a bigger house, or save their money and stay in the current one. Young women decide which man they should bet their reproductive potential on. Workers ponder what they should do with their holidays. And so on.|
New articles are being added all the time, so make sure you bookmark Paul's Tips and come back.