Some years ago I was introduced to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, via an essay on happiness. Since then, I have read many of his words and enjoyed them for their honesty and aha inducing moments. This is an excerpt from a book by Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience “For the majority of people on this earth, life goals are simple: to survive, to leave children who will in turn survive, and , if possible, to do so with a certain amount of comfort and dignity. In the favelas spreading around South American cities, in the drought-stricken regions of Africa, among the millions of Asians who have to solve the problem of hunger day after day, there is not much else to hope for.
But as soon as these basic problems of survival are solved, merely having enough food and a comfortable shelter is no longer sufficient to make people content. New needs are felt, new desires arise. With affluence and power come escalating expectations, and as our level of wealth and comforts keeps increasing, the sense of well-being we hoped to achieve keeps receding into the distance. When Cyrus the Great had ten thousand cooks prepare new dishes for his table, the rest of Persia had barely enough to eat. These days every household in the “first world” has access to the recipes of the most diverse lands and can duplicate the feasts of past emperors. But does this make us more satisfied?
This paradox of rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way. The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When this happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.”
From politicians to marketers, we hear so often that somebody wants to relieve our burden or suffering, and to increase our contentment, but this can only happen within us, and the facade is short-lived. In addition, we have started to believe that any suffering or discontentment or even boredom is somehow wrong. We start to expect relief of these things at the hands and activity of others.
We have become a nation with an unwarranted sense of security, and a demand for it where it is absent. We have forgotten that it is the very insecure nature of life and the ability to fail epically that is the very source of our pride in achievement. Without this, we lose our purpose. Progress is not inevitable and life should not be easy.