“It is the paradox of modernity that as choice and material prosperity increase, health and personal satisfaction decline. This is now an accepted truth. And yet it is the rare American who manages to step back from the hedonic treadmill long enough to savor his or her good fortune. Indeed, for most of us, regardless of what we have, we want more and we want it now. The roots of this conundrum—of this addictive striving—are to be found in our evolutionary history. As creatures of the natural world, having evolved under conditions of danger and scarcity, we are by instinct reward-seeking animals that discount the future in favor of the immediate present. As a species we have no familiarity with the seductive prosperity and material riches that exists in America today. A novel experience, it is both compelling and confusing.
Brain systems of immediate reward were a vital survival adaptation millennia ago when finding a fruit tree was a rare delight and dinner had a habit of running away or flying out of reach. But living now in relative abundance, when the whole world is a shopping mall and our appetites are no longer constrained by limited resources, our craving for reward—be that for money, the fat and sugar of fast food, or for the novel gadgetry of modern technology—has become a liability and a hunger that has no bounds. Our nature has no built-in braking system. More is never enough.
Somewhere along the road to affluence—caught up in the excitement of global markets, a virtual world of electronic wizardry, and immediate material reward—America has lost sight of [our] founding hopes and dreams. What is the purpose of the journey in this land of opportunity when individual social mobility lags behind that of Europe, when 45 million souls are without health insurance, and when our educational system is badly broken
Now with reality challenging the laissez-faire ideology of recent decades we have the opportunity to take stock with a renewed self-awareness, to curb our addictive striving, and to reach beyond immediate reward to craft a vigorous, equitable, and sustainable market society—one where technology and profit serve as instruments in achieving the good life and are not confused with the good life itself.”