Don’t Get Stuck on the Hedonic Treadmill
By: Ryan Felman
I will admit that for most of my twenties, I was stuck on the hedonic treadmill. I was foolish enough to buy into the American dream and nearly killed my true identity pursuing it. By the time I was 24, I was already beginning to find myself deluded by this tired old path. I was working a corporate job and was stuck at a desk day in and day out doing a burnout job yet surrounding me were much older people who somehow slaved away at an identical desk, in the same office working the same job for many more years than I was able to tolerate. I suppose this was one of many moments in my life where I began to realize that I was not cut of the same cloth as the average person.
After slaving away at a desk from 9 to 5, I was also slaving away in my leisure time to my hedonic addictions. When you are a young man in a new place, you are basically at the mercy of who you work with, as it becomes more difficult to make friends after college. Though not impossible if you have the right approach. Yet my group of friends was essentially the people I worked with and I was fortunate to have them, but we largely wasted our time by going out drinking to cap off the long boring days at the office. Though fun occasionally, it sets you up for a life of mediocrity and possibly depression.
Still, I was going to the gym as often as I could, and spending my weekends biking or kayaking, weather permitting. All the same, I was drinking too much beer and eating way too much fast food and processed garbage. Though I never got obese, I was significantly overweight for my standards and it began to affect my mood and my confidence. I was falling into the trap mentality of believing my best days were behind me. Who could blame me? I was slowly losing my hair, gaining fat by the week, and stuck in a quiet, little midwestern town with virtually no dating scene unless you had a very liberal policy on drug use. Not that that mattered since I was working long enough hours that I didn’t really have the time to waste on finding a girlfriend.
So, I spent my free time at the gym, drinking with my coworkers and playing copious amounts of video games. Aside from the gym and my outdoor activities, I was not pursuing positive endeavors and my quality of life was taking a toll from it. I even began to wonder if I was possibly depressed. This especially hit home when I found an article online called “The Quarter Life Crisis.” Upon reading this, I did gain some comfort in the fact that what I was facing was not exactly unique. Nonetheless, I realized how unfulfilling my life was and realized that I needed to make a change if I was to live a more meaningful life.
So how did I change my life? I took risks. I made changes. I left my comfort zone. And I challenged myself.
By taking risks, I was giving myself a chance for a better life. I had one of the safest and most comfortable jobs anyone could hope to land. It was well beneath my abilities, so I had virtually no chance of being fired, and it was a company that will likely be here much longer than me. Yet I realized very quickly that unless you make it to the top of the pyramid, you are stuck earning a moderate salary and great health benefits. It is a trap job, intended to keep you satisfied enough to keep slaving away while never reaching your full potential of making the big bucks.
Rather than living a quiet life of desperation as Thoreau puts it, I took a risk. I quit, found a better job in sales where I could make as much or as little as I wanted. It all depended on how much effort I wanted to put forth. Though it was a much riskier job, it was ultimately so much more fulfilling and rewarding. I felt a direct link between the effort I put forth and the money I earned. More importantly, I felt like I was helping the little man in this job as opposed to lining the pockets of some corporate behemoth.
I made changes. I wasn’t happy with the direction my life was going so I changed almost everything. I quit my job, moved to a new city, and broke up with my girlfriend all in the same month. The fear of the uncertainty was surpassed by my fear of being stuck with the same job, in the same town, with the same girl and watch us both grow fat and unhappy.
This feeling of frustration and despair that I refer to as my “Quarter Life Crisis” really stuck with me. It ultimately motivated me to write my book, Reclaim Your Manhood, to help young men in a similar situation.
I left my comfort zone. I put myself in a new job, in a new town and I was all alone. The only people I knew were coworkers, but I learned a lot from my first move. I found myself a place in town where I would increase my chances of meeting people and I had no problem going out on my own and being social. Even if they were just single serving friends.
By putting myself in a situation where I knew no one, I challenged myself to learn how to be more extroverted and meet new friends. Best advice I have on meeting people is to get involved in the community by joining a gym, a church or local event. Recently I made a few friends by getting involved at my Martial Arts Dojo. These people tend to be motivated and healthy individuals, so you are likely to share a similar mindset. Then you must be confident enough to crack a joke occasionally. If this isn’t your thing, just being friendly is often enough to get the job done.
It would take me a few years, and greater struggles to carve out my true identity, but I was on the right path. Like many others, my twenties were a time where I was making a lot of mistakes but learning from them. I enjoyed myself and tried a lot of new ideas and hobbies. I kayaked down rivers, even getting stranded once. I drank moonshine. I visited cities all over this country. Ultimately it is all these experiences together that help us form our true selves. Out of all the pain and struggles, and fun times we gain a greater understanding of who we are and what we value.
Perhaps my greatest takeaway from this chapter in my life was to live a life with an open mind, especially in your twenties. The world is a complicated place and when you start to think you have it all figured out, it has already changed. What I will tell my son, is to go out and experience the world while he is young and free enough to take risks. Even though inevitably some of these risks are bound to end in failure. If one big idea can work out, it can be life changing. And though we like to focus on the success of others, it is often the failures that provide the best lessons in life.
It took me a long time to learn that there is more to life than being a mindless consumer. Yet the average person seems content to do this for much of their lives.
How is it that most of the population can talk about absolutely nothing with great interest and be so wonderfully entertained by it all? It is so rare to find someone who is genuine and wants to have a conversation about anything meaningful. Most people just want to regurgitate tired old jokes and memes or obsess over sports. It’s all quite sickening. Our culture is stuck on a hedonic treadmill.
The fact is that the average person can’t handle reality, hence all the escapism. Alcohol, drug addiction, video games, TV, even vacation. You work all day for months, so you can get away from your home for a week. Is the home that you create so bad that you must escape it from time to time? Traveling is fun, but many seem to dread coming home and I intend to create a life that I am always excited to come home to.
This lust for materialism is so destructive. It allows us to create the chains of our own bondage.