Yesterday, I felt like a drought ended when I got to spend an afternoon with my best friend Tanner for the first time in a couple of months. I’m going to tell you about that, but first I want to talk about the question that titles this post.
The question might seem dumb, and I’ll admit it’s hyperbolic, but who doesn’t feel a tension between the time it takes to sustain their personal relationships and the time it takes to “get ahead?” The problem, if what you're looking for is happiness, is that putting friendships on the back burner in favor of more material pleasures puts you in the futile position of running in place on the “hedonic treadmill,” according to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., founder of the relatively new field of “positive psychology.” He writes that the hedonic treadmill…
"…causes you to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted…The deeds and things you worked so hard for no longer make you happy; you need to get something even better to boost your level of happiness..but once you get the next possession or achievement, you adapt to it as well…"*
If we want to be happy, Seligman seems to suggest, then setting our sights on getting more money and stuff is the wrong direction. Meanwhile, on a societal scale, that self same consumption plunders the planet’s resources and chokes it with waste. What interests me about this, from an environmental point of view, is that, if you believe Seligman and his crew, we’re wrecking the world with our consumption for reasons that aren’t even making us happy.
To get lasting happiness (according to Seligman) and to help save the world (according to me) we should pursue long-term gratifications—which raise our happiness “set-points”—instead of short term pleasures—which just give us a transitory burst of happiness. Needless to say, investment in satisfying, positive relationships is one thing that brings long-term gratification. This is why, in the No Impact Man experiment, we have given up TV and other atomizing forms of mass entertainment in favor of having people over to play charades and such, which brings me back to yesterday’s visit with Tanner (in the photo, Tanner is on the left, playing with Isabella, and I'm on the right).
For the last ten years, we have generally spoken on the phone once a day and seen each other once a week. In the last three months, though, Tanner both got a new job and prepared to take the bar exam. Plus, I’ve been busy with the beginning of No Impact Man. The result was that, while we waited for the season of crazy busyness to be over, we barely talked.
Yesterday, at last, Tanner and I debriefed about our marriages, our work, people we know in common, hot chicks we saw on the street, the first coffee I was having in three weeks (social exception from the local food rule), movie stars, our therapists, computers, and politics. I felt, after all that time without each other, like a dry sponge soaking up water.
And you want to know something? I would take another ten years of talking on the phone every day with Tanner over 100 Mercedes-Benz. The great news is that the best things in life don’t hurt the planet one bit.
*Seligman, Martin E. P., Ph.D. Authentic Happiness, Free Press, 2002, p. 49