A theory in draft
Just some thoughts from a conversation on parenting, that I had over the weekend. Nothing in here is a final statement of belief.
Over thousands/millions of years of evolution, humans (and in fact, one could argue, most animals) have acquired a sense of need to fulfill basic requirements for survival. This need was relatively constant, since these basic requirements weren't always in full supply. Specifically:
- Physical nourishment (food, water, as much fat as could be acquired in order to sustain through lean times or when the gazelle had too much caffeine that morning)
- Shelter (a roof over one's head, whether that roof be shingled or the inside of a cave)
So we are programmed to always be in pursuit of those basic requirements. All the time... we don't really have an "off" switch for it. We have an "I'm full" switch, which really only goes off way past the point when we're full, and that is why people recommend eating your food slowly: the triggers that say "I'm full" only reach your brain about ten-fifteen minutes after the fact. However, that switch is a very short-lived on, and turns itself off after about an hour.
This serves as a possible (at least partial) explanation about obesity and consumerism in societies in which basic requirements (food, shelter) have been fulfilled. Even though you have enough nourishment and a roof over your head, that doesn't stop the programmed "need to pursue". Even though you do not want for anything right now, your body/mind is constantly pushing you to prepare for the time when you will, which as far as it knows (from thousands of years of evolutionary training) will most probably be very soon
A pat little explanation for ennui as a whole. And as with most broadly oversimplified arguments, there's some truth in it as well as some analogies that have been stretched too thin. But we have been trained for millenia to always be in pursuit, and only feel basic, temporary satisfaction when we achieve the goal. What we have now is the spilling out of that "need to pursue" beyond the realm of basic requirements, since these have been met (at least in the society in which I live). Since we have no other defined triggers and requirements to meet, it gets messy: we pursue those things that give us a quick shot of that feeling of contentment that arises when you're sitting at home around a crackling fire, surrounded by family and the remains of a really good meal: the Rockwell Thanksgiving feeling. The easiest route for that pursuit leads to more food, an obvious choice: it's just more of what you already acquired. Otherwise, we end up with consumerism, monomania, addiction, etc.
Makes sense to me.