Learning to be content

At a warm little dinner over at a friend’s place last week, I borrowed Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics off her bookshelf and have been reading it bits and pieces at a time.

After her mother’s death, Blue van Meer and her father travel and live in an average of three different states each year, her father being a university professor teaching at various colleges throughout the years.

While my nomadic life with Dad may sound daring and revolutionary to the outside observer, the reality was different. There is a disturbing (and wholly undocumented) Law of Motion involving an object traveling across an American interstate, the scene that, even though one is careening madly forward, nothing is actually happening. To one’s infinite disappointment, one always arrives at Point B with energy and all physical characteristics wholly unchanged.

Every now and then, at night, before I fell asleep, I found myself staring at the ceiling, praying for something real to happen, something that would transform me…

This immediately brought to mind a recent blog post of Seth Godin’s blog I’d read, titled Is That It? :-

How long after getting a big promotion does it take for an executive to get antsy?

Why does a powerful senator take small bribes and risk his entire career?

Why do Amazon customers, with a choice of every book, delivered overnight, for free, whine about their customer service going downhill?

Why do customers at a truly great 4 star restaurants often feel a little bit of a let down after the last course is served?

Why do Facebook users (a free service that they used to love) complain so vehemently about a change in layout?

Why do the very same Apple lovers who waited in line for days now scoff at incremental (free) improvements in their iPhone?

This state of ennui explains why we’ll never run out of remarkable, why consumers are restless, why successful people keep working and taking risks. It explains the self-centered, whiny attitude of some bloggers who can never get enough from the world, and it explains why a rich country like the US could almost bankrupt itself in search of ever more.

The first is to realize that people will never ever be satisfied with you, they’ll even whine when you give away something for free. Embrace the whining and realize that this attitude gives you an opportunity to answer the question with, “no! Wait, there’s more!”

The second is to understand that a hug and a smile from a true friend is it. Along the way, marketers of stuff have tried to offer that stuff as a replacement to the thing that children/consumers/employees/customers/spouses really seek, which is connection and meaning and belonging and love.

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