So I guess the new iPad 3 is out now, right? Did you buy one? Did you want to buy one but have a spouse with a better sense of reality than you? That’s where I am right now. I hadn’t thought about Apple’s next super-gadget until I went to Apple’s website and saw their brand new shiny rectangle. Immediately, I needed it, and I could not fathom how I had survived thus far without it in my possession. The same was true for my Macbook, my Kindle, and just about any shiny piece of technology in my apartment that I didn’t build myself. Actually, I’ve even obsessed about the things that I’ve made. I have had old computer parts sitting around my living room for months, but once I got the idea of building a file server, it’s all that I could think of. I have spent countless hours reading reviews and rumors about the next big piece of consumer tech. Go ahead and ask me about my thoughts on the Kindle Fire and I can give you a long speech about its upsides and downsides, its usability, and its potential without ever having actually owned one. Am I crazy? I’m pretty sure that I’m not. You’re probably just as crazy as I am although you are probably obsessed with some other consumer good. Cars? Clothes? Shoes? Bags? Bikes? Food?
What are the things that you “can’t live without” once you see them?
Let’s do a little experiment. What was the last thing that you absolutely NEEDED to buy (although technically you didn’t need it to survive)? Maybe you bought it yourself or maybe it was a gift. For me, it would probably be my Kindle. Ok. Have you thought of it? Do you remember how you felt when you first held it in your hands? Do you remember how it smelled as you pulled it carefully from the packaging? How did it feel in your hands the first time as you realized that this thing was now actually yours? Close your eyes and imagine that moment again…
Now how did you feel the last time that you used it? I’m not in your head, but I’m guessing that you don’t have that same sense of exhilaration every single time that you use it. Dopamine is a fickle master. At one moment, you couldn’t imagine life without it, and now you are used to it and no longer get the same rush of chemicals to the brain that you used to. The reason for this is surprisingly simple and elegantly beautiful.
It is a wonder that we humans are still alive. We have no fur, no claws, weak teeth, poor senses, moderate speed, and moderate strength. The only reason that we have survived on this unforgiving planet is our big brains. We are incredibly good at adapting to new situations. All you have to do is open up a copy of National Geographic and look at pictures of people from around the world. Without fail, the people groups who have lived in a location for more than a few generations have developed unique and creative ways to thrive within that particular climate. We are the best at adapting! Woohoo! Go humans! Number 1!
That being said, our ability adapt is why your new iPad 3 will stop being exciting within a few weeks. After a while, the Dopamine stops flowing and you will adapt to the iPad 3 as if it had always been a part of your life. On a side note, I don’t like to get political, but I think that this is why many social welfare programs are well intended but inherently flawed. Humans are just way too good at adapting to the “new normal” and expecting certain things. Louis CK said it perfectly on Conan O’Brian’s show a while back.
For those of you who didn’t watch the video because you hate things that are wonderful, he tells a story about being on an airplane. The flight attendant announced that they had high-speed wifi on the plane, but after a little while it stopped working and the guy next to him was actually indignant as if wifi was one of his rights as a human.
We can easily go the way of Louis CK and throw out some “kids these days”, but that’s how we’re wired! Humans encounter a new situation, adapt to it, accept it as the new normal, and move on. That helped us outlive saber-tooth tigers just like it makes buying a new iPad less than exciting after a while.
How then should we be happy, Zack?!
In Luke 18:22, an upstanding and well-to-do fella came up to Jesus and asked him what he had to do to be saved. After a little back and forth, Jesus said, “Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me”. Now I would never advocate that for every person. Jesus was talking to one guy, and we can’t extrapolate that out to all people. However, there is a truth in there that I want to bring out.
In addition to adapting really quickly to new situations, our brains are also have a tendency to smooth out the rough edges and de-emphasize the pain of our past. We never quite feel the sting the same way again after the initial experience. Perhaps it is a self-defense mechanism, but we remember the past way better than it really was.
::Begins playing Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen::
Think back to your best memories. First kiss, wedding day, playing catch with your dad, or Christmas Day. How does that make you feel? Does it generally make you feel better or worse than thinking about your new iPad? I’m going to wager that you feel better about those memories, and that’s exactly the point. When you make good memories, your brain makes them better! You remember the past better than it really was, and there is the key to happiness. Jesus called the rich young ruler to get rid of all of his stuff and come along for an adventure. He called him to stop spending his time “getting” and start “doing”. I guarantee you that the young man would have been able to look back at the past with more satisfaction had he gone along for the ride with Jesus than continued to pad his stock portfolio.
So instead of saving up for the next shiny rectangle that Apple makes, spend that money on weekend vacation with someone that you care about. Not only will you have a good time, but those good memories will continue to build upon each other as you construct a mental tower of joy that will continue to guard your sanity against the onslaught of the free-market. Truth, beauty, joy, and fulfillment are to be found by experiencing life along the journey and cannot be paid for by MasterCard.