Exploring the Hedonic Treadmill, Part 1

If you’re interested in better understanding your feelings about work, read on.

A couple of years ago, I sat down and slowly read Yuval Harari’s seminal book on the history of human kind: Sapiens. It was an eye opening read, certainly a little controversial. Part Two of the book is The Agricultural Revolution, and the fist section of this part is entitled “History’s Biggest Fraud.” I was a little stunned, as I had been taught that the agricultural revolution was an essential step in the betterment of human life.

Fast forward to today. I’ve just about completed a new book recently published by James Suzman: WORK. Suzman is an anthropologist and he takes us through a history of work by homo sapiens, going back 300,000 – 500,000 years and brings us back to today.

Back to agriculture.

Here’s how Suzman sums it up:
“The whole thing with farming is that there are just so many vulnerabilities that people began to really fetishize scarcity. How do you mitigate that risk? Create surpluses. So there’s never enough. You can never have too much in reserve, which underwrites, in many ways, our thinking about money. People are prepared to acquire more money than they could ever possibly spend in a lifetime. It all comes down to the psychosis of scarcity” Special note: prior to the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago, there was NO scarcity.

This is a fascinating explanation of what today drives our work habits and our aspirations to accumulate wealth.

One of his main points is the distinction between nature and culture, the latter really explaining why we work so many hours today, often leading to burnout. He connects it all to Adam Smith, Thomas Aquinas and other religious movements, Of course, culture is a social construct and can be evolved, if we choose to do it.

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