Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

What are we doing here? My resolution for the New Year is to figure that out. Yes, I know we are working hard; progressing by achieving, inventing, creating, and generally doing incredible things that would leave the generations before us bewildered. … OK, I see your point. These things are what we are doing here. Let me rephrase the question then: What are we accomplishing?

All right, so we can access most of the knowledge accumulated since the beginning of time from every nook and cranny of the globe on a device that will fit in a shirt pocket, assuming you can get service. Great. Now what?

What I’m getting at is: Are we any happier because of all our advancements? Sure, we are living longer, more disease free, and fatter. We have wall-to-wall carpeting, granite countertops, and radiant floor heat. We have fast cars and faster planes. I’m pretty stoked when I get the latest gadget from Apple or when I sit down to botulism-free filet mignon with a nice glass of pinot noir shipped in from 2,000 miles away, separately. But, when it comes right down to it, these are just different forms of simple pleasures that surely our ancestors enjoyed, too. Look, I’ll lay it on the line: Are we any happier in general than people were at the dawn of mankind?

Of course nobody can answer that for certain, but if I had to guess, I would say “no.” I don’t think we are any happier than the first human beings were.

Now do you see what I mean? If this is true, then what on earth are we accomplishing here? It seems like we are working our tails off and being pretty darn ingenious trying to move the happiness meter a few notches to the right from a position where it has been pegged for six million years. We’re not more content than the cave man. We’re not less. We’re just the same.

Why? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the rat race is being run on a treadmill. You don’t believe it? Consider this: We are not getting any happier by progress. However, we would almost certainly be miserable if suddenly all of our modern conveniences were taken away. I mean, can you imagine a day without Starbucks or the Internet, much less a toilet or running water? We can never go backward. The planet doesn’t have enough pills or therapists.

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We can’t even stand still. It is human nature to figure out ways to make our lives easier. I can assure you that as soon as the first man downed an antelope by chucking a stone at it, his buddy was working out design complexities and testing the first slingshot. And, all it takes is for one person to come up with a snazzy improvement like that and everybody in the cave dwelling wants one, too. But, fast forward 300,000 generations or so and I doubt that a modern hunter with a scope on a high-powered rifle that can down an elk from a thousand yards gets anymore satisfaction from the hunt than that first rock-throwing grunter.

It’s not even like all the devices, mechanisms, and methods that we have come up with throughout the ages have made our lives any simpler. You show me an efficiency gain anywhere and I’ll show you a few more tasks that somebody will cram into your day. It’s that treadmill we were talking about. We are destined to continually move forward to do more and more and more. They say sharks have to stay in motion or die. Well, at lest they don’t have smart phones which they are expected to use to raise their productivity.

I don’t know who got us going on this perpetual motion machine, but if it hadn’t been her it would have been the next person in a long line ready to jump up and press the button for thigh burner mode. I’m pretty sure it is our nature and that it was preordained that we would continually move forward toward perfect happiness or extinction, whichever comes first. I’m guessing extinction, but that’s besides the point … for the time being.

I mean, God gave each of us talents and drive, right? I have always believed we are supposed to employ them the best we can. Here’s the thing, though: I am starting to believe that driving a Ferrari and living in a French chateau are not going to move us beyond the happiness plateau. I don’t think that just keeping the treadmill going at life’s anaerobic threshold is our purpose. We have to keep moving forward, but if it doesn’t make us any happier, what can we do?

Well, try this one on: 925 million people in the world are hungry. This is true even though the world produces more than enough food to feed every single person three squares a day plus snacks.

Maybe it’s not that progress is leading us on a race to nowhere. Maybe we just missed one of the course markers and took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. Most likely, it was near the beginning, shortly after the starter’s gun was fired and somebody invented the first health club and we all rushed in and jumped on the treadmill so we could watch TV.

Whatever. Maybe advancing, achieving, and progressing through our lives really can make us happier. Instead of using every last contraption to tweet the minutia of our own lives to everyone, every bite of food to expand our own waistlines, and medical breakthroughs to help us get longer lasting erections or erase the effects of aging, we could redirect progress to make sure everyone eats. I think it’s worth a shot.