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Weekly 3: Will you ever be satisfied?

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 31 · Issue #215 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Can you ever be content? Is sustained happiness possible? Who knows. But you probably can’t begin to answer those questions until you understand how the human mind works. This issue offers a few perspectives to help.
(~4 min read)

#1. Chasing a mirage
Historian and meditation practitioner Yuval Harari says in an interview, “the problem is that at a very deep level, the reaction of the human mind to pleasure isn’t satisfaction—it’s craving for more.”
For Harari, the key to happiness is to know the truth.
But what exactly is that truth?
It’s understanding the nature of the mind itself.
Especially the realization that all of your experiences, feelings, sensations are just “ephemeral vibrations.”
They have no deep meaning. 
This is why they can’t give you lasting satisfaction. 
Think about it: if you have some pleasant feeling, it quickly disappears, leaving you grasping for the next pleasant feeling. That’s the essential nature of all your experiences, feelings, and sensations—they never last.
As Harari puts it: “I think only once you begin to realize that, will you have a real chance of understanding yourself and of being really satisfied.”
Because otherwise you think to yourself: 
Oh, I’m missing this particular feeling … I’m missing this particular experience. This is why I’m not satisfied. If I only had that, then finally I’ll be satisfied.
But there’s no such thing.
#2. We're all addicts
Author and researcher Robert Greene writes that our pursuit of pleasure frequently violates a basic element of human nature. 
For many of us, work is just an irritating necessity of life.
We’re really motivated to avoid pain and find as much pleasure as possible in our time outside work. 
Those pleasures can take many forms: sex, stimulants, eating, shopping, entertainment, gambling, technological fads, games of all sorts, and so on. 
But regardless of the form or object, our pursuit tends to lead to diminishing returns. 
“The moments of pleasure we get tend to get duller through repetition. We need either more and more of the same or constantly new diversions.”
Our need can become an addiction. 
The problem is that this goes against a law of human nature: “ to have deeper levels of pleasure, we have to learn to limit ourselves.”
For example, if you read a variety of books for entertainment in rapid succession, you’ll experience a diminishing sense of satisfaction with each new book.
But if you read one excellent book and absorb yourself in it, this can have a relaxing and uplifting effect as you “discover hidden riches within it.”
And in the moments when you’re not reading the book, you’ll find yourself thinking of it again and again.
#3. Happiness has a shelf life
Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant writes on his blog that, “Desire’s a contract you make to be unhappy until you get what you want.”
You first become disturbed because you want something. 
Then you work hard to get that thing, feeling miserable in the meantime.
But when you finally get it, you revert to the state you were in before you had it. 
As Ravikant points out: “People hold onto a delusion that there’s something out there that will make them happy and fulfilled forever. No single thing can do that.”
There’s no single, permanent solution to happiness.
Instead, happiness requires a process of understanding and self-discovery. 
“It is a process of training yourself to see certain truths.”
As Ravikant notes, if simply obtaining things made us permanently happy, then the cavemen would have been miserable, and we would all be deliriously happy.
But net happiness per person doesn’t appear to be increasing, and it may even be decreasing
“Modernity probably brings more unhappiness than the past.”
So instead of thinking about happiness as some constant and permanent state to achieve, you can think about it as “returning to the state where nothing is missing in this moment.”
Quote of the week
“Your inner growth is completely dependent upon the realization that the only way to find peace and contentment is to stop thinking about yourself. You’re ready to grow when you finally realize that the ‘I’ who is always talking inside will never be content.
It always has a problem with something. Honestly, when was the last time you really had nothing bothering you? Before you had your current problem, there was a different problem. And if you’re wise, you will realize that after this one’s gone, there will be another one.
The bottom line is, you’ll never be free of problems until you are free from the part within that has so many problems.
… When you get clear enough, you will realize that the real problem is that there is something inside of you that can have a problem with almost anything.”
- Author and journalist Michael Singer in his book The Untethered Soul
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