Again

Whenever I find something I like, my natural inclination is to want to do it again, over and over and over, until I inevitably get sick of it. I’ve ruined dozens of songs by listening to them on repeat until I couldn’t stand them anymore, eaten the same meal day after day until the mere thought of it made me nauseated, seen women I was infatuated with compulsively until the sight of them just reminded me of my own weakness. There are some pleasures I’ve returned to repeatedly and haven’t gotten sick of—but I know that really just means I haven’t gotten sick of them yet.

There’s a logic to this behavior that’s hard to deny: if you do something and it feels good, do it again. But we’re not always as accurate as we think we are in identifying what it actually was that made us feel good. Sometimes it’s the novelty of the thing, or the surrounding circumstances, or the state of mind we were in at the time, and none of those are so easily replicated. Sometimes a thing stops making you feel good as soon as you start expecting it to.

Besides, there’s more to life than feeling good. Or at least, you’d hope there is. When I was a flailing startup founder, I’d often opine that starting a company had almost certainly made me less happy, on average, than I’d been before, but that my highest goal in life wasn’t just to feel as happy as possible. Aspiring to something beyond mere “feeling good,” I reoriented my entire life around a pursuit that made me stressed and anxious. But I still took too much Adderall back then, because for all my lofty ideas about higher aims in life, I couldn’t resist those instant hits of feeling good when I had the chance.

In a way it’s a form of entitlement to think you’re supposed to feel good all the time. There’s a quote from a comedian that I think sums up this idea nicely: “Heroin makes you feel good, but how good do you need to feel?” That’s from Louis CK, who certainly knows a thing or two about compulsively returning to behaviors that are short-term pleasurable and long-term harmful. Ironically, I suspect my own inherently sunny disposition makes the bad times harder to accept. If I didn’t naturally feel good so much of the time, the times I don’t wouldn’t feel like such affronts.

One of the core tenets of Buddhism, which I guess you could say I’ve lightly studied, is to observe your internal experience just as it is, without ascribing value judgments like “good” and “bad.” I’ve meditated regularly for seven years, and it has, very gradually, helped me moderate my desire to always feel good. But of course, the main reason I’ve been able to keep up my practice for such a long time is that meditation itself feels… kinda good. Pleasure-seeker that I am, I keep returning to it, over and over and over.

Yours in the absolute agonizing that I do over every drug reference that I put in this newsletter, worried about what people will think, but also trying to write from an honest place,

Max


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