Do you often feel unsatisfied? Like something’s missing? Like you don’t have enough of something?
There’s a deep human need for fulfillment.
Certainly, this can be a deep philosophical and religious need. I’m reminded of a saying by Saint Augustine of Hippo, the fifth century Algerian church father:
You have made us for yourself, and Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.
But in the past few posts I’ve been exploring this restlessness, not at the high level Augustine considers it, but at a lower level. I’m thinking about basic human motivations, considering the general relationship between goodness and quantity, and ways we can maximize good in the practical areas of our lives.
The question is, When is enough enough? When is more of something worse, not better? When do we have enough money? When we do have enough happiness?
Today’s question is, When is enough never enough? Are there some things in life that are vital but that never permanently satisfy? Is it right to feel continually driven and “restless”? Why is the appetite never satisfied?
In a moment of existential crisis, the ancient Hebrew sage-king Solomon felt worn out by this constant human drive:
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
My point today is, we should embrace this drive, we should celebrate this constant sense of restlessness, as a fundamental and permanent attribute of human nature. In some areas of life, we should expect to never reach satisfaction, because the “restlessness” is what makes us alive. It’s a good thing. It moves us forward. It makes life the great adventure.
We should abandon the false idea that enough should be enough in some areas of our lives.
Think about love. Showing love to others. Doing good to others and experiencing good from others. When is enough enough? The answer is, never.
Think about food. Or air. Or showers. When is enough enough? Never. We don’t ask deep philosophical questions about these things. We expect to be constantly going after them. We never arrive at a place where we won’t want these things, or need these things. Sure, we might be satisfied after a good meal. But that won’t last, and it shouldn’t. There’s another awesome meal ahead. The appetite renews. We get dissatisfied again. Restless. We want to eat again.
That’s a good thing.
Same with showers. Eventually we’re going to want another one. And another one. Showers aren’t a one-and-done sort of thing, like a trip I took to Disneyworld with my six children. There’s always going to be a “restless need” for showers.
I like to think of motivational talks like I think of showers. They won’t last, but they’re helpful right now. I’m going to need more of them in the future. We might think, Yeah, he gave a good talk. But it won’t last. That’s the wrong way to think. The talk isn’t designed to last. It’s designed to help us now, not later.
Same is true of achievement. Human nature is wired to make good things happen, constantly. When we think we should find some place in life where striving and achieving are done, and we’re sitting in a hammock on some beach for the rest of our lives, we live under a false impression. That place doesn’t exist. We’ll enjoy the hammock for a couple days, then realize that we’re hungry for purpose again. To be truly happy, we need to keep on making good things happen. A while back I invested over ten posts to show how happiness is “a pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.” There’s a flow to happiness, a never-ending stream of happenings that drive it, like the flow of water keeps a water skier afloat. Without that flow, our hearts are restless.
As they should be.
Let’s ditch the false impression that something out there can give us permanent satisfaction. That’s not the way life is set up. Life is a river, and we’re made to paddle it. Constantly. That’s the adventure. That’s what makes us feel satisfaction and dissatisfaction, over and over, in the dynamic currents of life.