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RELATIVE WORTH

March 1st, 2021

There is nothing more delicious than a morsel of food after days without eating. Likewise there is no money more proud than that given in thanks by a poor man. As a species we don’t calibrate to a universal baseline. We are relative, comparing our success to the neighbour, and the dulled taste of that cake to something in the past that was inevitably better.

The brain is outfitted with all sorts of mechanisms that create this trend to constantly ratchet things up. The most extreme example of this is addiction, which becomes all consuming and completely unsatisfying. The pursuit of such extremes result in a diverging of effect. While the poor man is extremely proud of his ability to give a gift, the rich man waves it off and calls it nothing.

This presents a problem for fundamental aspects of living like happiness, peace of mind and fulfillment. The chase for better is born of a fear that the best is in the past. But this assumes that we cannot achieve the same level of good, just in a different time and a different circumstance. What’s often needed is a return to a personal baseline. Sugar eaten every day ceases to be sweet, but a month without any sugar and everything starts tasting a bit sweet, and then when finally a treat is reintroduced it can even be too much - sickly sweet since the recipe is likely tailored to those who are inured to the taste.

It’s a platitude to claim that happiness lies in the refusal to chase pleasures, but this is too polar, not to mention, unrealistic. Happiness lies, not in total denial of the search for pleasure nor a gorging on pleasure, but mindful calibration away from both extremes. It’s not moderation in the usual daily sense, but it is in the long term. Each extreme, whether it be reckless indulging or total abstinence, neither hold what they promise, but when the two are paired and thoughtfully pitted against one another, we can get the best of both worlds without falling into the trap each presents.


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Podcast Ep. 1051: Relative Worth

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