“Psychologists have long agreed that one of the greatest enemies of human happiness is ‘hedonic adaptation’ – the predictable and frustrating way in which any new source of pleasure we obtain, whether it’s as minor as a new piece of electronic gadgetry or as major as a marriage, swiftly gets relegated to the backdrop of our lives. We grow accustomed to it, and so it ceases to deliver so much joy. It follows, then, that regularly reminding yourself that you might lose any of the things that you currently enjoy – indeed, that you will definitely lose them all, in the end, when death catches up with you – would reverse the adaptation effect.”
— Oliver Burkeman
“Impermanence” may well be one of the few certainties in life (Seven Wonders of the World & landfills aside). As I sit in my room writing, I look around at my worldly possessions & acknowledge that one day they will all cease to exist. I mean when you literally break it down, “things” are just a bunch of atoms mashed together. They will at some point in the future become un-mashed. Only a matter of time. But we tend not to think so structurally about objects in day-to-day life. Even concepts, ideas & abstractions are often considered only so far as the tangible, immediate future.
Does substance use/abuse follow this trend of ‘hedonic adaptation’ (a concept which sounds suspiciously like “first-world problems” dressed up by the social sciences…then again it is psychology)? Well, I think both yes and no. Yes, because there is almost always an initial phase of consumption that is focused on the pleasurable effects of use. Drinking is fun! Sure it is – and even if you personally don’t think so, the marketing/advertising industry will try to convince you otherwise (messages you’ve no doubt been exposed to since an early age). I used to have a lot of fun when I was drinking. I used to be the source of fun when I was drinking. Used to.
Then it’s not long until that “honeymoon” period of your relationship with substances is over; the high has worn off, so to speak. You have to put in serious work to keep up with it, and it becomes rote maintenance; a chore that is “swiftly relegated to the backdrop of life.” But, only insofar as that you get little to no enjoyment out of action you have made habitual of your own volition, especially if you no longer enjoy it. Even though addictive behaviors become a constant that depreciate in “value,” they rarely if ever are just background noise. There is a steady psychological/physiological want for the reuptake of chemicals. It may even be low-level, in the subconscious, but it still essentially dictates your every move (whether you realize it or not).
So ultimately where abuse/addiction splits from others in the reward center during hedonic adaptation is control. That’s largely what I’ve come to understand the foundation of this disease as: control. And how unlike the unafflicted, we have none of it. But what about those aspects of our life we do have control over? Am I so quick to assimilate the more enjoyable within the context of the rest of life, and dismiss it as equal to or less than? More than I care to admit. Coincidentally, alcohol abuse in the long-term (i.e. as a depressant) led me to become so much more jaded and cynical than I once was, as a young adult eager to discover the world.
Vinyl tastes better.
When I first read Burke’s quote I knew it immediately applied to the way I consume media, most especially music. Somewhat ironically, the massive depth of the Internet and its endless pages of MP3s has cheapened the listening experience for me. Over the years I have built up quite a collection of artists and blogs to follow for the best, richest yield of the musical crop, so I already have more sources than I do time to adequately explore them all. On top of that, the way streaming and hosting platforms have evolved allows all those points of reference to further share their personal sources and favorites. Consequently I find myself faced with so much NEW music that I have to take abridged listens when I play tracks, and download and store them for future playback…except that I am always plagued with a nagging sense of “there’s new music out there to be discovered, and if you don’t now it may be lost forever to the archives of the net.”
Conversely, though, this phenomenon has augmented the value and overall experience of live concert settings for me. I am presented only with what of is in front of me, and only for a limited timeframe – so push the FOMO out and let your mind fully absorb the spectacle unfolding in front of you. I had a couple truly great weekends of music at the end of October/beginning of November, where I was afforded the opportunity to not only do this, but to do it in the company of my closest friends who share my point of view on the topic, as well.
Kickin’ rocks with the homies down at the Jersey (City) Shore
I think my generation has a difficult time with this. The piece on social media I reblogged the other day does a good job of stating some of the unfortunate side effects the Facebook Era has had on culture and society (in America, anyway). When I’m online and come across any media that ignites a spark of interest or insight in me, one of my first thoughts is usually “Which networks can I share this on, that it will reach the most people, who it will appeal most to?” This happens often out in the non-virtual world, too. Phones in the air at concerts, capturing shaky footage with crackling audio that really does not do justice (and in fact is a bit insulting) to the entire performance. Phones hovering over artisanal sandwiches in trendy cafes to capture the majesty of bread…yo, it’s a fucking SANDWICH. Just put it in your mouth. (Not that I’m not guilty of these things).
Keep it fresh by not trying to always “keep it fresh” – enjoy the moment for what it is, and not for what it will be in retrospect or what it will be shared over social networks. I came across a great essay that touched on this sort of attitude when I was researching one of my favorite songs (and arguably one of the greatest tracks to come out of the past decade): LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” This song was released internationally the day after I turned 18, right as I was preparing for the collegiate phase of life and how to accommodate all the growth/baggage that comes with it. It’s been argued that at face value the essence of the song is an aging hipster bemoaning middle-age, waxing poetic about all that was magical in youth. Whatever its intended meaning, it has really come to define a lot about the state of affairs in these technologically tainted times.
“That’s how it starts
We go back to your house
We check the charts
And start to figure it out
And if it’s crowded, all the better
Because we know we’re gonna be up late
But if you’re worried about the weather
Then you picked the wrong place to stay
That’s how it starts
And so it starts
You switch the engine on
We set controls for the heart of the sun
One of the ways we show our age
And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
And I still don’t wanna stagger home
Then it’s the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet
You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again”
Here’s the excerpt from the essay (the whole excellent piece over at Stereogum):
“Now, in this millennium, the idea of universal musical experience is a thing of nostalgia itself; the idea of there ever being a generation- or era-defining song again seems impossible. Don’t get me wrong: multiplicity is great. Nobody should bemoan all the options we have at our fingertips in 2013. But it’s one extreme we’ve tumbled into, and we haven’t entirely adjusted yet. Look at these most recent VMAs. We craft our snarky-but-I-don’t-care-enough-to-even-hate-them 140-character denunciations of their intrinsic meaninglessness, and then we spend a week talking, and writing think pieces. We still crave our universal experiences, to have monolithic markers with which to relate to those around us, to see all our friends tonight.
Part of living in this millennium means accepting all the competing informational and experiential detritus flying at you 24/7. It means not being paralyzed by all that has come before you waging war within you, but to tap into the juxtapositions and the dissonances and the confusions, and do something with it. It means accepting that a song you deem generation-defining might be just that, but explicitly because it exposes how impossible such a title is anymore.
So, then, in celebration of paradoxes. ‘All My Friends’ is happy and it’s sad. It’s naïve, but also disillusioned. It can make you feel twenty again. It makes you feel forty before your time. It makes you feel twenty and forty at once. It spirals into drug-fueled escapism, and it spirals into nostalgia. It’s mature. It’s the sound of sobering up. It’s the song you play as the party peaks. It’s the song you put on headphones when you walk home in the early hours of the morning, and some nights you triumphantly reminisce about all the experiences of your life, but maybe the edges are haunted and just as you step up to your front door and [frontman James] Murphy’s last refrain echoes ‘If I could see all my friends tonight’ you also know you’re searching, too, that you feel all the dejection and isolation that’ve been as much a part of these last thirteen years as a new online version of community, or as much as anything else. It’s a song about 1987 and 1997 and 2007 and probably 2017. Even weighed down by all of this, it still moves. And because we have no other option, because this is our new millennium life: We still move, too.”
Well said. Today I am grateful that I am learning how to find the balance between static and chaos in the context of a society and even world that struggles to understand itself yet continues to propel itself forward at break-neck speed. Today I am grateful that I am finally starting to live comfortably amongst confusing, often-senseless strife without an alcoholic crutch to turn to in times of fear or anxiety. Today I am grateful for right now.
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