The Amazing Recycle Bin

2014-07-05 10.00.37-2As I emptied the recycling from the kitchen into the bin today I was struck by just how amazing the contents would have seemed only a few hundred years ago.  The aluminium cans, the trays, the glass and plastic bottles would have been treasures, now they are rubbish.  The seven car loads of ‘stuff’ from our garage clear out last week would have been a lifetime of riches. It gets me thinking again about just how amazing our world is and just how much we take it for granted.

It’s often said that even the poorest in the west today, live in most ways better than the very richest only a few hundred years ago.  Happiness really is the most relative of phenomenon and we are very poorly equipped to use this to our advantage. Given how much we know about the complexities of world, it really is crazy how poorly we understand how to manage our relationship with what appear to be the simplest things of, like happiness and food.

This craziness is perfectly illustrated by 11 studies, undertaken by psychologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard University which had people sitting on their own in a featureless room for between 6 and 15 minutes.  These people had previously been exposed to an electric shock which was so painful that they said they would willingly pay to avoid having it repeated.  But left alone in the room for 15 minutes of quiet reflection, with only the option of the electric shock so stimulate them, this is what happened:

In the most dramatic finding from the research, participants were left alone in the room with a button which administered a mild electric shock to them. Of the 18 men in the study, 12 gave themselves at least one shock over a 15-minute ‘thinking period’.  One unusually bored man pressed the button 190 times, although this was not typical. Of the 24 women in the study, 6 gave themselves at least one shock.

The much higher rate amongst men is likely down to greater sensation-seeking amongst males.

Now for someone like me who considers 15 minutes of quiet time to meditate to be a real treat this is really amazing and demonstrates nicely just how our over stimulating modern world is screwing us up!

Even the normally very astute Leo Babauta gets it a little wrong in his post on Perusing Happiness, where he says:

And this choice, to dedicate your time to helping others, relieving their suffering, making them happy … this is the motivation you can use for doing great things, for building something useful, for creating and working and being a good parent. It’s not about increasing your own happiness, but the happiness of others.

whilst the goal to “dedicate your time to helping others, relieving their suffering, making them happy” is laudable I don’t think it’s right.  It’s very hard if not impossible to relieve peoples suffering and MAKE them happy,  in most circumstances suffering and happiness come from within, they can’t be fixed from the outside, only through education and disciplined practice.

I read somewhere recently about ending the day in reflecting on how lucky we are:

  • We were caught in the rain and got soaked, but we had a place to get warm and dry and our roof doesn’t leak
  • We had to work through lunch, but we had a hearty breakfast and can look forward to an evening meal with the family, we are never really hungry and a short fast is good for us anyway
  • We sprained an ankle running, but we can still drive, we don’t need to hunt for our food, we can rest it and let it heal in warmth and safety
  • We had a stressful day at work, but it wasn’t the stress of spending two days on the hunt and coming back empty handed to a hungry family
  • We were made redundant, but the state will still make sure we have a roof over our head, food on the table and heat and light, we won’t be out on the streets, we will be living like the Ancient king and Queen we will watch on our amazing TV tonight

The photo today is of my view as I cycled to Cleveleys yesterday.  I’m not able to cycle more than about 25 miles in a day, unlike my 70 year old Mum who can easily cycle 80, but with views like this how can I not be incredibly grateful.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. July 8, 2014

    […] numbers) many of these focus on the impact that the new world is having on our mental abilities. Steve recently highlighted an experiment where people would rather suffer the pain of an electric shock than be in a place with no […]

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