This week is spring break for our kiddo so we decided to take our travel trailer to the woods for a little family camping adventure. We bought our travel trailer last fall and we love it. It’s perfect for us. I was so excited to get it out of storage and take it on the road. I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks!
Once we arrived at the campground and got settled in we decided to take a walk and stretch our legs. We were about halfway around the campground when I realized that I wasn’t admiring the birds or the trees but comparing our camper to the other campers and wishing ours had a few upgrades. Once I became aware of my desire to upgrade our camper I immediately felt guilt. We have owned our current camper for six months. I should be feeling gratitude for it, excitement to be in it, but instead I felt envious of the bigger and better ones I saw. What the hell? Why am I suddenly so dissatisfied with something we just got?
I wish I could say the camper was the first time I had experienced this but it’s not. A couple years ago my husband treated me to a gorgeous set of Le Creuset cookware that I had been coveting for years. I was like a kid on Christmas day opening up those boxes and looking at the beautiful blue enamel coating, feeling their weight, and dreaming about what I was going to cook first. I remember carefully hand washing them to make sure they remained in pristine condition and believing that the food I cooked tasted better now that it was being prepared in them. It was less than a year into my ownership of this cookware when I received a Williams Sonoma catalog in the mail with the new Le Creuset collection on the cover and suddenly my love affair with my current collection was over.
Why can’t I just be happy with what I already own?
It’s easy to keep desiring more in America. Most things can be readily delivered to your front door with the push of a button. Shopping is easy. If I had to sheer the sheep for the wool to make the sweater I wanted things would be much different. I would do everything I could to keep that sweater in great shape. It would be something I felt immense gratitude for because I spent a lot of time and effort on it. But when I order it online…on sale…with free shipping…it’s suddenly dispensable the following season when it’s no longer in fashion or I’ve grown tired of it.
You would think that an expensive item would keep you happy longer but clearly, in my case, that’s not true. Cars and homes are usually two of our most expensive purchases and you can see from the thriving real estate market and the multitude of car dealers in most towns that even expensive items don’t provide long term happiness for most people. We are always looking to upgrade something, from our cars and homes to our bodies; are we ever satisfied?
Every time you turn around there’s something new and tempting. I’ve been off social media for a few weeks now so these desires aren’t because I’m comparing my life to other people’s perfect photos. Is it partially from advertisements? Yeah, I’m sure those have an impact. But this week at the campground, with no internet, no media, and no advertisements around me I still stumbled into the land of “I want that”.
As we walked back towards our camper I got distracted by conversation with my husband, looked up, and saw our cute little camper waiting for our return. I thought about the trips we have planned this year and the memories I will make with my family. I realized that when I’m in the camper I feel relaxed because I’m away from the usual chores of home. It’s a place of refuge for me mentally and physically. It’s a small space that encourages snuggles with my family and time together. I took a few minutes to admire it and to feel gratitude for it. That gratitude didn’t fully take away my desire for some of the other campers I saw, but it did increase my happiness with my camper in that moment.
I’ve read articles about gratitude and it seems that, while it won’t relieve you of every urge to upgrade your life, it can lessen the desires in the moment and can help you be happy with your current situation. But needing to take a moment and be thankful for a 25K recreational vehicle makes me feel like shit. I have so much! I need nothing! I have all my basic needs met and a whole bunch of wants. Yet, I desire.
Is this just biology? Does the dopamine high wear off and we, without having any control over it, are destined to always be seeking what’s going to give us the next dopamine high? From the research I’ve done I’m sad to say that yes, this is exactly the case. There’s even a term for it, it’s called Hedonic Adaptation. Basically we
- have a desire
- get said desire met
- happiness increases from getting desire met
- then levels return back to our happiness baseline
- leaving us to seek the happiness high again and again
I’m trying to feel less guilt about desiring more, now that I know that I have little control over this urge to always be seeking this “happiness high”. I can’t make the desires completely go away but there are a few things I can do to lessen the guilt I feel for having them in the first place:
- Acknowledge the desire.
- Determine if an outside influence has provoked the desire (ads, social media, marketing displays).
- Consider my motivation. Am I desiring said item because other’s have it? Do I see the item improving my quality of life?
- Express gratitude for what I already have.
- Give myself a break from the guilt. Companies are paid $$$$ to make me desire new stuff. They don’t get paid if I’m happy with my present condition. Their goal is to make me feel like shit so I will buy more shit!
By the end of the trip, my desire for a new camper had disappeared. I realized that upgrading our camper won’t improve the quality of our camping trips and frankly, I didn’t want to spend my trip on the desire/guilt rollercoaster of emotions. I made it a point to be grateful for our camper and to appreciate the time it’s giving me with the people I love the most.