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Some mental mistakes Americans make

12 January 2020

More is always better

We’re the land of supersizing, giant cars, and giant houses. If someone offers us more of something, we take it reflexively. Because it’s more. If we see a bigger X, we assume it’s better.

But getting more of something brings diminishing returns to utility. Often, it goes further: more of something that was good becomes bad. Two hamburgers doesn’t give you twice as much pleasure as one. The second just makes you queasy. Watching one show on Netflix feels like a welcome break. Watching two makes you feel like a lazy slob.

Less is often more.

Newer is better

We’re suckers for the latest gadget. The thing we bought last month suddenly feels outdated as soon as the next edition comes out. Nothing changed about the older one. It works well. It just feels worse because the newer one has a few superficial changes and is being marketed to us.

Something new is unproven. It hasn’t been tested in the real world. It has an element of risk attached to it. What if this doesn’t work?

Sometimes, the newer stuff is better. Most of the time, though, it’s not. This is why most ideas, business, and technologies fail.

In many cases, it’s the oldest stuff that is the most useful. We rely on wheels, tables, and fire way more than we rely on our smartphones. People don’t talk about the photos they saw on Instagram five minutes ago, but will spend thousands of dollars to see the (very old) art in the Louvre, and talk about their visit for the rest of their lives. We still teach the works of Homer and Shakespeare, but what about the New York Times best seller from a year ago? Does anyone even know what it was?

Problems are a problem

Every inconvenience and discomfort is seen as a life-threatening pain in the ass. We wish someone would make them go away, so we can go through life without lifting a finger except in a few pre-selected areas.

In most cases, our problems are totally trivial. We get frustrated now if a delivery takes two days instead of one, or if our coffee isn’t just how we wanted it in the moment. But most in the United States are fortunate enough to be past the point of warding off starvation or homelessness. We’ve already won. But we lose sight of that, and turn our molehills into mountains.

It’s a game we can’t win. Every addition to our lives brings new problems. Hardly anyone worried about binge-watching before Netflix streaming came around. Even if a problem is solved, it just comes back again later. You eat, and then get hungry again later. Things change.

Having to come up with solutions with situations that occur is part of live. There will always be something to solve. Just as there always has been. The only way to get any sort of happiness or peace is to be present in the current moment. To just be there, wherever you are.


These are byproducts of our society. We turn everything into a competition and judge people based on how much stuff they have. Everyone is trying to one-up each other to this status game. A consequence of our astounding record of innovation is our hyper-focus on problems. Inside a problem could be an idea for the next big thing that could make you rich(er). So you can buy more stuff.