Craving & Satisfaction
“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.” - Yuval Harari
Have you ever noticed that your anticipation of pleasure from some future event doesn't usually live up to expectations? Let’s take something as simple as wanting a delectable slice of thin-crust pizza. You feel famished and can’t wait to tear into your slice.
The scent of the juicy fats and dough stimulate saliva to flow in your mouth and digestive enzymes to churn in your stomach. Your mind begins fantasizing about biting into the pizza and you seem to need pizza at that moment as if it’s going to solve all your problems.
But how long does the feeling of enjoyment during the eating process last? How long does it take before you’re full to the point where one more bite of pizza would actually leave you suffering, perhaps dry heaving in agony?
And how long before your brain immediately starts thinking about its next desire, whether it’s a task you must complete, a place you must go (the bathroom, maybe), or some other plan to get your next hit of rewarding brain chemicals?
There’s an ancient Greek myth that adequately captures our often illusory search for pleasure. The story goes that Sisyphus was punished for his misdeeds by being condemned to live in Hades, the Greek version of hell.
He must push a giant stone uphill for eternity, only to have it roll back down each time he reaches the top. In this same way, evolution programmed us to never feel satisfied for too long.
This annoying human trait is called the hedonic treadmill, and it is true on both a macro and a micro-level.
On a micro-level, we crave that delicious meal, get it and then it isn't long before our stomachs are full and we turn to our next desire.
On a macro-level we want a new car, a new boyfriend, or a new job title. And then, if we're lucky enough to get what we want, don't stay satisfied for long.
One famous study found that lottery winners are not, in fact, happier than control groups, and take significantly less pleasure in mundane daily events.
The bottom line is that we're inherently pretty bad at predicting what will make us happy.
All those times we think, "If only I could have this or that, and then I'd be happy," we are deluding ourselves. Whatever those fantasies are, they likely won't bring lasting happiness.
This would come as a very depressing psychological truth if there wasn't a way out, a cure for our troubles. As it turns out, there's another way of existing that leads to much more stable contentment. An existence in which we're not controlled by conditioning to constantly feel dissatisfied.
Meditation can recondition our minds to crave less and feel satisfied in this moment.
By observing first hand the mind's mechanics of dissatisfaction, we begin to see the tricks that it often plays on us. And by learning to feel more satisfied in the here and now without the need for external gratifications, we live less in a state of craving and more in a state of self-dependent abundance.
And this mindset does not prevent us from being ambitious or wanting things a certain way. It just means that our entire happiness doesn't depend on it. A fit mind feels quickly recovers to a state of satisfaction even when things don't quite go our way.