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The Hedon in all of us

As a single person occasionally meeting people out in the real world and in the digital one too, many people I meet seem to have a couple things in common:

  • they enjoy traveling

  • they enjoy trying out new restaurant and bars

These are things I have in common with them but for the large numbers of us who espouse to enjoy these things, “why is it that we pursue them?” On its face it makes sense that exploring and new experiences are fun but according to the principle of hedonic adaptation, “what gave you pleasure or made you happy previously, often diminishes over time.” We chase out what is new in part because what we already know often begins to feel ordinary and yesterday’s news. It is our new status quo. For me this translates as chasing the endorphin hit of a new experience and the social capital that often accompanies it.

The enlightened hedonist according to Stoic principles, “spends time discovering, exploring and ranking sources of pleasure and investigating any untoward side effects they might have. Then devises a strategy for maximizing pleasure.” It can be summed as optimizing the path to short-term gratification.

I want to drop in a brief caveat saying this is not a diatribe against pleasure and new experiences but one asking, "what is driving us to do seek it out? What drives our restlessness and desire to to pursue new places?"

Does the person who is always traveling to the next destination absorb enough cultural context to take in the place he/she visited? Does the person who makes the same trip, and only that one, miss out on other destinations and cultures to compare it against and broaden their horizon?

If we’re always chasing out new restaurants, who is patronizing the existing ones we (used to) enjoy? If our favorite place from last year suddenly went out of business would we feel sad? Do we prefer a relationship with restaurant staff and the chef that is enduring or fleeting?

How much do we want to visit a restaurant or country vs. say we went? What if after visiting the newest place or an exciting destination, we couldn’t share our photos and thoughts for two weeks? Would that change the drive behind wanting to go? It might not but it at least help posit the question, “why do we want to go in the first place? How much is our curiosity to go vs. our desire to be on-trend?"

How do we avoid traveling as a checklist and aim to make it more about being there?

The next time we’re making plans, I wonder if it would be helpful to ask, “am I doing this because of internal desire vs. external expectation I’m imposing on myself?"

How much are we doing this for external achievement vs. internal fulfillment (Tony Robbins interview)? Its hard in today’s world especially. Did I, Chris LeBeau, check the photo I posted to Instagram six times in the following hours to see who had viewed it? Yes. Do I feel embarrassed admitting that? Yes.

Assuming any of this resonates with you and the enlightened hedonist is one pursuing the path to short-term gratification, what would it look like for us to delay short-term gratification in favor of something more fulfilling in the long-term? Something to ponder.

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