When Will They Ever Learn?

For those of you with a sharp memory for music lyrics, the title goes back to a line from…..care to guess?  The Kingston Trio.  The bittersweet song: Where have all the flowers gone?

hedonic treadmillThis essay comes to you in the form of a confessional.  You can write about something… You can know the correct path to follow…and still screw-up.  I’ve written quite a bit about ethics as well as being happy and up till now, I’ve only given token lip-service to The Hedonic Treadmill.  If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a bugger and probably in the top three things that make you and me and the rest of humanity crazy and a whole lot unhappier than we could be.

For new arrivals, The Hedonic Treadmill is : The tendency of people to return to the same level of happiness despite positive changes to their lives.

Translated:  When you turn 18, you may just want a car…any car, just so you can become FREE from the tyrannies of Mom and Dad.  Gimmie some wheels and I’m a happy camper.  By the time you’re 25, however, you’re probably lusting for your first BMW, Mercedes, Audi.. and then you’ll be happy.   Yup, that works great for about three weeks.  Soon, however, you begin to realize that in order to be really, really happy, you need to upgrade to the 5-series.  By the way, BMW in its infinite wisdom, began adding more numbers to their cars so, you can now get a one, two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight-series BMW, with the unspoken understanding that you won’t truly have made it till you get to seven or eight.  Do I hear a nine or ten series?  You bet.

truck scene

(This is not a BMW)

Going in the opposite direction:  This truck is about as old as I am.  It has no creature comforts and the 0-60 is possibly measured in minutes.  Why would I want it?  When I was a kid, a farmer I knew had this truck for delivering milk cans.  It made me really happy driving it.  Need I say more?

Allow me to whisper in your ear.  Pursuing stuff doesn’t make you happy.  It never will.  You’ve just been snookered into climbing onto the Hedonic Treadmill.  When you were little, did you ever try to walk over and see a rainbow up close?  As you keep walking, it keeps receding.  You never actually get there.

aaa rainbowConfession Time:  There are myriad different forms of this affliction:  We truly design our own shackles, our own prison cells.  “We wear the chains we forged in life.” Moving as quickly as is humanly possible, my particular treadmill began when I figured I’d be truly happy once I get accepted at Franklin and Marshall.  Scroll ahead, “Yeah but, what I really meant to say was, when I get accepted to Columbia Law for Law school….then, I’ll be happy.”  Then it was Vietnam and soloing out in jet fighters was my raison d’etre.  Did that make me happy?  Very briefly.

Later, I remember  vividly driving out to Sabino Canyon in Arizona with Pam.  I confided  to her that  if I can just make it through life by creating and selling my sculpture, I promise, cross my heart and hope to die…I won’t ask for anything more.  I will be a very happy camper.

aaa calvinandhobbes6Part of my brain was bullshitting another part of my brain.   I had to have MORE..MORE of everything.  Have I just defined the American Dream?  Yeah, in a way.  Grow up just a tiny bit and you’ve also defined the American Nightmare.

Later still…another powerful mistress,arrived, a literary one: If I can just have my novel accepted by…well…any publisher…that’ll do it.  Swear to God, that’ll do it.  That thrill lasted all of one week.  The Hedonic Treadmill is already set up to make virtually all writers miserable.  With one book published, the question instantly arises:  Are you going to be a one-hit-wonder?  Get back on the treadmill.  And on and on it goes.  What you really need, and then all will be well…is a best seller…make that two best sellers.  A little tip for would be writers: If you’re writing to be rich or famous or well-respected, don’t bother.  The only reason a writer should write is because he has to.  He has to tell some story that’s important to him.

You see the pattern and everybody designs their own little treadmill.  I WANT…better yet, I DESERVE that Mc Mansion out in the country.  That will finally do it for me.  I want to be vice president of XYZ, Inc.  No wait, once I get that, it shows that I really deserve to be president.

If you have a bit of silver in your hair, you’ve probably already come to this conclusion.  But the question remains:  At What Price?????????  Well, TIME for one thing.  You only begin to sense, a bit later, that you can recoup a financial loss.  You can’t bring back one nano-second of time.

At some point you have to take that treadmill out in the back yard and dig a deep hole, and throw it in.  Otherwise, you may come to a point in your life where you come to the conclusion:  “Awwww shit….”

I’ve finally come to the point, where I can look at a car magazine and shrug at a $250,000 Ferrari and know already that  it won’t make me happy, won’t endear any neighbors to me.(It does quite the opposite.)  The only thing it does do, is inspire me to work even harder to make the monthly payment. In that regard…I have awakened and I do, indeed, smell the coffee.

Houses, too.  We’re about to move from our great big house where half the rooms are never used, to a much smaller house.  Why?  Cuz, I’ve been there and done that.  The house I have in mind is 1/3rd the square footage of my current one.  One third the heating bills, one third the cooling bills, one third the time spent vacuuming,  painting…everything and one -tenth the taxes.   What I really want to do is write…just cuz I love the process, search for gold nuggets in the trout stream and see if I can help out some younger sculptors and writers.

The things that make you happy are not things at all.  (Gonna coin that phrase, put it on t-shirts and make a whole lotta) ……hey wait a minute.

If you’re a younger individual, see if you can be a whole lot smarter than I was.  I’ve worked thousands of hours to accumulate more and more stuff.  I call to you from your future:  Go back!  Be smarter!  Cuddle with your wife more.  Roll around on the floor with your dogs, try to be a real and true friend to those who deserve it.  Your enemies, if you have any…don’t bother getting even, or showing them, press on.

happy-the-movieAbout a year or so ago, I did an essay on happiness.  At the time, I suggested you watch a movie, cleverly entitled Happy.  A little secret:  It’s like getting your wheels balanced and realigned.  You gotta do it every few months.  Seriously.  Pam and I are rewatching it tonight for the fifth time.  I expect to learn some new lessons and reinforce some things I already knew.  Probably the best, nicest thing I can do for you today is make that link available to you.  Then watch it every few months to get you back on track.   It’s that good:

You Tube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQqizx0UCuw

Or on Netflix for free:  http://www.netflix.com/watch/70243161?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C2%2C54877cae176dffce7d262ebb3693185621a587c7%3A9daf456197ed0ef9ff2be9c442acbbd1f7a1050d

Henry Portrait ShotHenry

P.S.  My son just called…just now with some real crap news.  A mutual friend of ours has been diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer.  His days and weeks are numbered.  He didn’t see it coming.  People rarely do.  Whatever your lot in life, begin to protect and savor those hours, days, weeks, months.  They’re drastically more precious than any THING.



10 Responses to "When Will They Ever Learn?"

  1. Henry Harvey says:

    Amen to that Henry!

    Chris Flynn

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    Thanks Chris!

    We’ve all been through a lot of challenges this past year. Hoping 2016 is a pleasant and exciting new chapter.

  3. Henry Harvey says:

    Amen, Henry.

    Pam Farrior

  4. Henry Harvey says:

    Uh oh,
    I just got two “Amens” in a row. I’m gonna have to get edgier.

  5. henry harvey says:

    Right on buddy! The more you earn, the more you spend, the more you’re in church(metaphorically speaking).
    Bruce H.

  6. henry harvey says:

    Hey Bruce!
    Yeah, it’s like one big hamster wheel….and we’re the hamsters. The moment you get used to your new acquisition, whatever it is, you need the next best one.
    Getting better at that harmonica, trumpet, gourmet cooking, writing, whatever, the more truly happy you are. And, friends, fuzzy and otherwise and sometimes even a relative…helping out, celebrating life…that’s where it’s at.

  7. henry harvey says:

    Forgiveness is a difficult concept. I can choose to accept an abuse given its magnitude. I can move on and dismiss without need to address. Lie to me….that’s big….basically a write off offense. Tell me the truth…ok but need to address issue if it is worth saving. Our kids are entitled to slightly different rules. Lying results in some penalties but need to resolve.

    Physical violence, rape, death….unforgivable. The power of forgiveness of the remaining members of the 9 southern church members murdered by the scum nut case is admirable for their powers of conviction. Not my ability to forgive here…ever.

    Phil K.

  8. henry harvey says:

    Hey Phil!

    Yep, it’s an extremely difficult and nuanced topic. Thanks for your excellent comments.

  9. henry harvey says:


    This came from W. B. Yeats, pre WWII poet. You could substitute any nationality, but he probably got it right with Irish:

    “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

    Richard Rex

  10. henry harvey says:

    Hey Dick!

    Since you’re a British expat, I tried your suggestion of substituting any nationality. Voila!!!! It really does work! “Being British, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
    …..Do you think joy is too strong a word?


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