Friday morning I woke up with dime-sized red mark on my lower arm. It appeared to be zit without a head. It wouldn’t pop, so I eagerly awaited taking care of it after a hot shower.
A few hours later the zit looked like a large spider bite. When I squeezed it, a jolt of hot pain spread up my arm.
I watched this spider bite grow for a couple of hours. Once my arm started feeling hot, I went to the Emergency Room.
Anyone who has grappled or worked in medicine know why I went to the ER rather than waiting to see my doctor the following Monday. An aggressive form of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – or flesh-eating bacteria – had begun colonizing my arm. By Monday I would have run the risk of losing part of my arm. (Some aggressive antibiotics killed those encroaching bastards.)
You might be wondering what a story about a bacteria infection have to do with anything.
Although we like to talk about game and evolutionary psychology by relying on primates, in truth we are nothing more than bacteria.
That bacteria could have been happy to occupy a small piece of real estate in my arm. But the bacteria’s selfish genes compelled it to expand into greater territory. That bacteria wasn’t happy with a piece of flesh; it wanted my entire arm.
It might not make sense to us to talk about a bacteria’s happiness, but consider how we are no different from that MRSA colony. We expect more, more, more each year and we won’t stop until we get more, more, more.
Yet behaving like bacteria doesn’t make us any happier:
The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.
Have you ever looked at a Social Security wage statement? I earned $13,848 during my senior year in college. I had everything that I could possibly want.
During a self-audit of my spending with Mint.com, I bristled at the thought of downsizing my living space. I need to be in a nice place near the ocean, fancy coffee shops, and good restaurants. My very happiness depends upon it!
But I lived without such luxuries years ago. Why can’t I chill out? Why does my standard of living have to go up each year?
Why do you need a new car, bigger house, bigger paycheck, and more, more, more each year?
We demand more from tomorrow than we have from today because we are no different from bacteria. And we are unhappier for it.
I know guys who are broke that can’t live with roommates. That’d be impossible. So those guys will stress about money because it’s impossible to do something they actually did years ago.
I know guys who can’t pick up women who have large car payments. You guys would laugh if you saw my car. My car payment is zero.
Why throw money into a car that could go into your body? Guys who “can’t afford” to juice or join a gym probably drive better cars than I do.
Why work harder at a job you hate so that you can buy more stuff that won’t make you happy?
The bacteria says, “Bigger living space, nicer car, work harder, longer hours, bigger paycheck.”
If expanding into deeper territory truly makes you happy, who am I to tell you otherwise?
In my experience, however, behaving like bacteria actually eats away our happiness. Acquiring more rarely makes us happy and so we should seek to kill the happiness-eating bacteria that has colonized our minds.