Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Appreciating the finer things in life, and all the not-so-fine things too

Why do some people get an ego boost from telling other people what they shouldn't like?  Is it to show that they've attained some level of sophistication, that they can now afford the best so anything less is a felony (apologies to Vanilla Ice)?  It's snobbery, I tell you, and I am the anti-snob!

Have you ever tried the experiment where you put one hand in really cold water and one in really hot, and then you put them both into the same bowl of lukewarm water?  The (formerly) cold hand feels hot, and the hot hand feels cold.  You would think they were in different bowls if your eyes weren't telling you otherwise.

We humans feel things in terms of deltas.  We change our baseline to adapt to our normal circumstances.  If you live in poverty for a while, you'll stop seeing it as poverty and start to see it as normal.  If you live in luxury, the novelty will wear off and you won't get nearly the same satisfaction as you did while you were "moving on up".

So being a snob ultimately means that you won't be able to appreciate even the finer things in life anymore.  You have to cleanse your cultural palette with the vulgar lower things in order to experience the great things fully.  And if all you have is the finest things, nothing of any lower value will make you happy.  And since most things will be of that "lower value", you will be miserable, most of the time.

I'm not saying don't try to get rich, or don't surround yourself with nice things.  If you've got an urge to buy a yacht, by all means make lots of money and try to get that yacht.  I covet the hell out of yachts!  I also want a helicopter, my own plane, an island, a pool with waterslide, a hot tub, and a castle with a moat and drawbridge.

But I also want to stay at shitty little hostels and get delayed at airports, and eat cheap fast food, and drive a shitbox of a car until it falls apart, because those are the things that life is made of.  You can get more pleasure out of the lower things than the higher things.

Many reasons for that.  For one thing, you simply expect less out of the lower things.  Your expectations are a big part of what defines your reality.  If you find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves the most amazing wings you've ever had and has your favorite beer on tap, you'll tell everyone.  But if you go to an expensive restaurant and the food is excellent, you won't feel that same "joie de vivre" (desole, je ne parle pas francais.  je suis american.).

So that's why I'm not a snob.  I want to be surprised.  I've lowered my standards and lowered my expectations and my happiness levels have gone up in at least equal measure, and probably with some kind of multiplier effect.

As my parents used to sing to me:

If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.
So from my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.

(Incidentally, if any future or past girlfriend/wife is reading this, I don't mean this about you, baby!  You're beautiful!)

PS: If you're interested in exploring what makes something lower or higher in quality, you may want to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig.

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