I’d like to begin today’s post by giving a shout-out to my newly found fans from the Netherlands. (You’re from Holland, isn’t that weird?) My new Dutch friends, I want to thank you for your patronage – as well as your splendid sauerkraut and split pea soup (Both are apparently national favorites.).
The conversation was short and sweet, but at the end of it all I knew enough. No doubt we step into these conversations on a frequent basis. For those who have worked – or are currently working – in any guest service job, you may know this conversation well.
Cashier: “How are you doing today?”
Me: “Quite well, thanks. And how are you on this fine afternoon?” ( I like to speak formally to cashiers.)
Cashier: “Great, and I’ll be doing even better shortly. I’m getting off soon.”
As I tried not to be offended that the reason her day was spectacular was because I had chosen the squeezable jelly over the canned one, I picked up on the gist of what the cashier was saying. The thing was not that she was having a “great” day, but rather the source of that greatness. Apparently, the scale she uses to measure the greatness of it is not based on the current moment, but what is yet to come. The closer that moment was, the better things are. The further away, the less stupendous moment this is. Therefore, the customers coming in at the end of her day will get the best service of the day – and she will be more impressed with their jelly that can be squeezed.
We are a culture very much entrenched in the now. Our ability to consume knows no equal in human history – though, to be fair, the Romans or Greeks never had the internet. This consumption is perpetuated be an seemingly insatiable hunger for “something else.” At one point in time, this other thing we were looking for was a new toy of sorts. If you were like me then that was a new G.I. Joe. Life was never any better than when I got that new G.I. Joe when allowance time came around.
After “Go, Joe” no longer hit the spot, then it was Lego time – which comes in a box set, if you can believe it! No longer was I limited to one thing, but now many appeared in my possession at one time. (Sure, they were small, but quantity and quality were fairly interchangeable at this point.) Then the technology age hit, and buckle up your seat-belts, Ladies and Gentleman. No longer are we going from concept to concept, but now we’re even needing to upgrade the concept that we’re currently locked into. An Ipod is no longer the draw, because now they’ve got an Ipod Touch. Then they made an Ipad? Iphone? And as Joey would say…Whoa! The ride seems to be going faster and faster, while our need for the ride shows no sign of slowing down.
We chase the dragon that is our happiness. There is much that we – the average American consumer – have in common with the average addict, billionaire, superstar athlete, or student in a classroom. No matter what level of achievement or possession we have attained, or striven for, we will never be fully satisfied. The things that are around us have the ability to shape and define us. (Note, I’m not saying they have the innate power to, but certainly they have become empowered by us.)
The root of it all is whether we value intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. Do we look for fulfillment from the external world, or do we seek internal fulfillment? As long was we continue to look for external fulfillment, then the bar will always be set to an unachievable height. Every time we achieve something, then we set the bar higher for us to reach our next objective.
So let’s just face it. We’re success junkies, you and I. Our only chance at true happiness will be if we cease to define ourselves by extrinsic things (stuff). According to Shawn Anchor – who knows things – 90% of our future happiness is predicted not by our outside world, but by our inside world. (Check him out at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html) We spend so much time focusing on the external world around us, when it only completes 10% of our happiness pie. Feels like a lot of time spent on such a little thing.
How are you developing your inside world today, so you won’t have to keep looking to tomorrow for hope?