Being unsatisfied is like a drug.
It gives you something to push towards. Or many things. Or some vague nothingness that nonetheless drives you forward.
When things go great, when something is accomplished or a gift given, it’s often almost anti-climactic – the attainment is often less gratifying than the desire that preceded it.
But being unsatisfied isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a reason why some of the world’s more “successful” people are also the most lonely, the most unsettled. The habit of being unsatisfied becomes so entrenched that long after getting everything they originally set their eyes on, they still feel underwhelmed, like something is missing.
I would argue that what we really need is contentment. Gratitude. A thankful heart.
A thankful heart is what allows you to decide that four cars is enough. Or that one car is. Or (gasp) that public transit is fine.
A thankful heart is what reminds you that another 80 hour work week in the name of providing for your family is silly given that your family already has food, shelter, the ability to see a doctor. Contentment is what compels you to turn the Blackberry off and enjoy an evening or a weekend with your wife and kids who are well fed but desperately miss their dad.
A thankful heart is what helps someone realize that they have enough. That the highest and best use for their resources might not be themselves, but rather people who weren’t given the skills and the intelligence and the discipline and the luck that they were.
Of course the world will never tell us this. We are all bombarded by thousands of messages telling us that we should never be satisfied. Planned obsolescence tells us that the iPhone we were given a year ago is rubbish and desperately needs to be replaced. Advertisements tell us that the key to our happiness is an SUV, some body spray and a television set that can also order you dinner.
It’s even infected religion – the refrain from pulpits is that there is a hole in your heart, a piece of you is missing, and that the answer is God. And that once you’re on the team, you will have a life of abundance, generally measured in dollars. Greed and discontent, hiding behind a dude with a Bible, white teeth and a fake tan.
Problem is the Bible doesn’t say that. Quite the opposite – the people who took God seriously were fed to lions, thrown into fire, crucified, stoned to death, beaten, thrown in jail, exiled or beheaded. The people who wanted to be a part of the movement were told to quit striving for what the world strives for and to be immensely grateful for what they had, to the point that the natural expression of their joy was to share all they had with others.
Abundance never meant money, status or power. Abundance was first and foremost an inward heart of gratitude, and a life of peaceful joy.
While in many ways people back then had it harder than we do, in one way our lives are much more difficult. We live in a part of the world that experiences unprecedented affluence. We literally have everything at our fingertips. We work hard, strive for excellence, are consistently driven to achieve, to attain, to accomplish. We are the wealthiest people who have ever lived. And we’re miserable.
The reason there’s such a gap between the rich and the poor today is because we’re unsatisfied. We’re in the top 1% of the world in wealth but we’re too busy looking up at the .01% to see the 99% below us.
Because we want more. We cling to everything we have and covet what little we don’t. Many of us never even pause to consider that no generation has ever had it this good.
We’re addicted to dissatisfaction.
This Thanksgiving, I’m trying to really think about how ridiculously lucky I am. Trying to step back and realize that there are more important things than stock options or wealth preservation. That my life is, by any reasonable standard, pretty amazing. And I’m hoping to carry that sense of contentment with me into the rest of the year.
It won’t be easy – the media doesn’t want me to be content, many of the people I know (if they’re honest) don’t either. But once you realize that dissatisfaction is a hunger that can never be satiated, the only logical response is to do whatever it takes to learn to be thankful. To quick cold turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving.Follow @intentionally