This passage interviewing a guy who walked in space, plus some context, can help you enjoy life more, even—especially—if you can’t get to space but expect you’d love the experience. From the article:
In the 1960s, he says, “astronauts were celebrities. They were invited on JFK’s boat. If you wanted to go to space, you had to become Neil Armstrong.” Today, however, space-travel companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are creating new opportunities for engineers.
I imagine most people would find the Earth from space one of the most beautiful sights imaginable. Many would love being celebrities who get to hang out with Presidents.
Astronauts lost their 60s status long ago. Charles Lindberg was once famous for crossing the Atlantic. So was Christopher Columbus. Thousands of everyday chumps are doing it now, faster than those two ever could, with more comfort and at lower cost. Yet many feel bored and miserable—on the flight and with their lives.
What’s the appeal of crossing the Atlantic? Once it was that no one had done it. Now there’s nothing special about it. We’d rather we crossed it faster so we could enjoy our destination. Is the appeal being the first, to be on the frontier?
The Empire State Building used to be the tallest in the world. Today, New Yorkers don’t bother going despite it being a subway ride away.
What if Virgin Galactic and SpaceX succeed and people can travel in space like they now fly? I don’t have to ask if people’s thrill and aesthetic pleasure of seeing the Earth from space will fade to the tedium we now hold for flying in planes? There’s no question it will.
Someone coined the term “hedonic treadmill” to describe how we acclimatize to pleasure and have to keep working at it, like we’re on treadmills, to get the same effect.
That’s only if you seek reward from external stimulus.
If you think you need to go to space to reclaim the thrill lost to flying across the Atlantic, I suggest you’re looking in a counterproductive direction in two ways. First, you’re looking outside yourself to create emotions. Second, you’re looking in an outside direction with no way of reaching your goal.
How about looking at it this way? Consider the thrill you lost from the view of the Empire State Building. If before it was built, people got the same thrill from the view from a building half its height, could you not also get that thrill? They were human, just like you, with the same eyes, brain, emotional system, and so on. They had no special ability to get thrills from lower heights. They saw the world differently, but so can you.
I suggest to you the challenge to enjoying life more is not to search outside for ever stronger stimulation but to understand inside, to master with greater skill how to create the feelings you want.
Can you feel the thrill others need the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world according to Wikipedia) by standing on the ground? If so, do you need to go to the top of that building? What do you learn about yourself in creating that thrill? What other emotions can you create if you can create that? With greater skills at creating emotions, can you not then motivate yourself to whatever you want? Are emotional skills then a path to achieving more of what you want, not less?
New York City has some of the highest rated restaurants in the world. I’ve eaten at several. I can’t deny that the taste sensations were pleasurable. But the more I’ve eaten the more higher-rated food, the more I’ve learned to enjoy a simple mango.
Actually, as I’ve learned to appreciate food more, I’ve learned to enjoy the food around me. This winter that means radishes, carrots, potatoes, and what’s around me.
Which do you prefer: a hedonic treadmill or joy?
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees