Which individual is happier? The one that never left the room or the individual who threw the door open and went running through? In truth, if the pure measure is happiness or contentment then the answer is the first individual—the one that stayed in the room That individual will be, almost without fail, much more content or ‘happier’ than the other. But, for the individual driven and stimulated by curiosity, the overall experience they enjoy as they move further into the world will be richer. True, unlike the individual who remained in the room, they will experience pain, heartbreak and suffering, cold rainy days, sickness, discomfort and much more. But with it, they gain access and insight to an ever-growing tapestry of experiences. How far from the doorway are you comfortable wandering?
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This is the same concept that periodically pops up in blogs and movies. In the Matrix it was the red pill/blue pill; live in an artificial world or face the realities of an apocalyptic and grim real world. In other novels, it’s the story of the character who grows up in a small town and then goes on to explore the wide world enriched by incredible experiences. It’s relevant in other areas of our lives as well. For example, the concept of no sex until marriage has evolved to be based heavily around this type of narrative. After all, if the entire frame of reference you’re basing your sexual experience on is tied exclusively to one individual then you’re more likely to be content in that state, regardless of if it’s good or bad. Does it work? It often depends—are you the first type or second type of individual?
The challenge comes when the complexities of our social networks provide that ‘doorway’ perspective. Suddenly, you’re faced with the knowledge that there are other options and that perhaps what you take to be good is radically worse than what is potentially out there. But, at the same time, the likelihood remains that as you add to your experiences, your expectations change. You become harder to satisfy, have a wider list of needs and expectations and for every significantly better partner that you discover, you will likely find several that come up short.
For the individual who likes as little diversity in their diet as possible, who sticks to a set routine, a close group of friends and their hometown—they’ve embraced the static comfort of the dark room. It’s also likely very true, though not popular to say, that these individuals are happier.
I am a profoundly curious person in most aspects of my life. While through this exercise I’ve come to accept that the cost of that curiosity is being less content with life as it is, I am profoundly grateful that I have chosen to feed my curiosity and to experience the full depth, breadth, and richness of life.
For me personally, embracing unabashedly the curiosity that drives those experiences and brings that contrast in life allows me to explore a spectrum of sensations, questions, and emotions that adds a richness, meaning, and level of stimulation to my life that I treasure. This more than offsets the frustrations or discomfort that also periodically arise.
Ultimately, neither is wrong. But, understanding the difference in our needs, where we place and draw value, and what drives us is essential for a healthy understanding of ourselves and those around us.
The Ant & The Universe
When I was a child, my Dad had me sit down and walked me through an exercise. It’s one I’ve modified since that time and used to explore my place in the Universe, to come to terms with the existence of things we lack words or the ability to visualize, and to hone my ability to explore the complexities of the world around me and the people in it. Depending on the way your mind works and your ability to visualize mentally, you may have to explore variations of this technique.