It's an endless eating contest, where the more we eat, the hungrier we get.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
There is a paradox I am confused about. My confusion isn't regarding the paradox itself but how we came to believe it a paradox when it is so obviously not. People feel empty; when they accomplish something noteworthy, there is a fleeting moment of delight, followed by a feeling of "it wasn't enough." Nothing is ever enough, so we toil and try harder, make big plans, read self-help books, and set goals. Nonfiction sells vastly more than fiction, and around eighty percent of nonfiction is in the realm of self-improvement. People want to understand why doing more and having more makes them feel like they have less. Answering this question is a whole industry, religion, and culture.
So we take those suggestions and keep trying and it always feels like we're just spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. This is my confusion, a paradox is where seemingly reasonable premises lead to an illogical conclusion. This is not what's happening here because what's happening is a rather natural conclusion. People feel hollow and unfulfilled because they want more. The conclusion is sensible based on the premises. No matter what you do or what you have, if you keep wanting more, then it is pretty obvious, whatever you have won't feel like enough. That is the rational outcome of our irrational wants. Then it is not a paradox but rather a delusion. Like an addict who overdoses; our want to get high exceeds our ability to get high. Yet we'll sacrifice everything in this chase. We think: "Well what if this time I can finally satisfy myself and get exactly what I want?" This is the delusion.
It's an endless eating contest, where the more we eat, the hungrier we get. We know this from real experience; we never get satisfied, our eating, over time, only increases our appetite. As our appetite grows, we eat more, which only expands our hunger. Many of us do this until the point of death; many of us are in varying points along this vicious spiral.
Our greed can surpass our attainments because unlike things we can have or do, there is no upper-limit to greed. Greed is uncapped, the sky's the limit, and without a cap, our greed skyrockets. Real greed is not necessarily tied to money, though money is always involved. Like a greedy squirrel, we just want more. When want is unreasonable, it becomes greed. When want affects our ability to have a balanced life, is when it becomes a problem.
"The Paradox of Our Age" by Dr. Bob Moorehead captures not only the feelings we all know so well, but also the conflicts we all recognize. That our energy is misplaced, that our methods for happiness are at direct odds with our happiness. Moorehead writes:
Fear of Scarcity
So then, what is the nature of this bleakness? We think we can never have enough because we fear scarcity. Without the fear of scarcity, there is no greed. We'll never believe we have too little, for that is the opposite perception of deficiency and inadequacy.
Charles Eisenstein unpacks these mysteries in Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition:
The more you believe you have less, the more you'll accumulate. The more that is accumulated, the more it will feel like it's not enough. If you felt you had enough, why would you keep collecting? It's self-fulfilling. The people who have the most are often the greediest because they are the ones most likely to believe they have the least. Then why would you give if you are so afraid of having too little?
What we see is not necessarily reality, we often see what we want to see.
You could say we have too little, but you could just as easily say we want too much. Just as we build wealth, it is not only making more, it is also spending less. Less want, more abundance. The illusion is believing we can want more and have more simultaneously.
The majority of our resources do not go to our necessities. Even with our current population, if we only used what we needed and even a little extra, we would have enough for generations without any more work. Imagine how happy you could be if all you wanted was a bit more than what you needed? This does not sound exciting in the world of achievement, but then again, nothing is that exciting in the world of achievement. Initial enthusiasm, followed by varying degrees of "meh."
Imagine how little we would need if we all shared? Most of the stuff we have idly sits there the bulk of the time. Large quantities of food go to waste, uneaten. Wealth concentrates, never having a chance to be used for good (or used at all). It just sits and grows. Sharing allows us to need less. It frees us more time. Time to do good. And the things we do have, will mean that much more. If everything is expendable, nothing is of value. Waste becomes natural, hollowness becomes standard.
We are slaves to our greed; slaves to our wants. We believe this gives us freedom, then where is our freedom to choose to want less? To do something else? To care about things that are provided for free? Not achievement or possessions, but the intangibles: like air, water, nature, and life? Not just in the "grateful and mindful" clichés, but in a deep change in our priorities?
Wanting less will finally give us a chance to have more.
It is not a paradox but a non sequitur, where a conclusion does not logically follow the premise, a delusion where we blind ourselves to the obvious consequences of our beliefs. We see nothing when there is so much. That is the deceit. We buy books on improving our methods for gaining more, when those books only reinforce our problems.
We have a scarcity complex; like a deranged squirrel, hoarding, filling its tree with nuts — because we cannot see that the tree is brimming, ready to burst. We don't see the value in value. The value of our friends, our families, of conversations, of smiles and laughter, of a stroll under the cover of elm trees. We say, "You don't know what you have until it's gone." That's because when it's gone, it's scarce. Since so many good things are abundant, we don't understand how to value it until it is rare. That leaves us with a system where we cannot enjoy anything, we can only regret them after it's too late. We have to nearly eliminate it to deeply care about it. (And even then some will not care.)
We believe the other option is to see that things are plentiful and take it for granted. That is not the only other option, the other option is to see that things are plentiful and be grateful we have so much. Things are not scarce and that is wonderful, and we should keep it that way. Can humans value what is not rare? Yes we can, as humans, we're capable of many things. The only thing stopping you from living a life of fruitful abundance is you.
Useful Companions to This Article:
- Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition - Charles Eisenstein