Our Town: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Our Town: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
There are many ways to find joy. Some find it in nature (photo by Tom Ferraro)

Flowers are blooming, the Masters was just played, baseball has started and spring has sprung. Who could ask for anything more?

Yet despite flowers and golf and baseball something seems terribly wrong.  Iran has attacked Israel and many worry that nuclear war is somehow looming.

Two of the most popular non-fiction books of the year are about what happens after a nuclear catastrophe.  And the way both Annie Jacobson (“Nuclear War: A Scenario”) and Sarah Scoles (“Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons”) describe a post- nuclear world, it’s way scarier than COVID. They predict the death toll would be about 2 billion.

I just had lunch with former state Sen. Mike Balboni, president of  Redland Strategies, a crisis management consulting firm. Mike spends his time flying around the globe advising nations and global institutions on how to prepare for and how to manage natural and manmade crisis.

But the threat of nuclear war is not the only disturbing feature of modern life. We also have artificial intelligence to cope with, the ever encroaching presence of social media and the bewildering nature of living in a global village with multiculturalism and diversity at the forefront.

Life, as it presently stands, is a confusing affair.  America provides us with an endless array of goods and services. Our access to entertainment is never ending. Any film ever made is now at our finger tips through streaming devices. If one wants to do research, we have the ability to read almost anything ever written.

We all have the chance to eat what we want, see what we want and travel to where we want.  And yet ours is a civilization of great discontent which is why the threat of nuclear war is quite real.

Freud pointed out that we have two major drives. The drive to live and the drive to die. He called this libido and destrudo.

Most journalists, artists and literary types were heavily influenced by Freud, but they all focused on the life force, or our sex drives.

No one seemed to want to talk much about destrudo, or our death wish. But our death wish is very much a part of us, why the threat of war is ever present and why we ought to be concerned about this growing sense of dissatisfaction.

One must ask why there is such dissatisfaction in a world of such abundance.  Many poets, philosophers, and writers have wondered about this as well. Edward Albee wrote the one-act play “The American Dream” in 1961 and the repeated refrain throughout the play from both Mommy and Daddy was that they simply could not get any “satisfaction.”

And picking up where Edward Albee left off, The Rolling Stones wrote “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 1965, which became one of the world’s most popular songs of all time. That song was about sexual frustration and the problems with commercialism.

Both of those pieces of art, written about the same time, may reveal the problem we have with abundance. The more we have, the more we want.  And furthermore no one seems to be able to guide us toward ways to be satisfied. Poets have made efforts to guide us.  Back in the 12th century French poet Chrétien de Troyes began the story called “Perceval, The Story of the Grail” about a knight who searched for the Holy Grail, but he came up empty in the end.

Since then filmmakers like Steven Spielberg have made films about this quest as well, the most popular being “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

American poet Walt Whitman said that the world is filled with endless satisfaction if we only open our eyes. I think Jesus Christ said the same thing 2,000 years ago with his oft-quoted remark, “The kingdom of heaven is within you and all around you.”

We all need a little help in finding joy, peace and happiness. The fact that it’s so hard to come by explains why psychologists such as me are so busy. The civilized world is set up in such a way that it demands we control our sexual and our aggressive drives.

Commercialism is set up to tempt us to buy things in order to bring a measure of happiness to ourselves.  The fact that people remain frustrated and apparently unable to find any satisfaction is cause for concern, especially when things like nuclear weapons are still with us.

I suspect that there are a variety of pathways to happiness or what one of my patients refers to as the golden ticket. Some may find it in literature, some in music, some through sports and some in a temple or a church. Transcendentalists like Whitman, Emerson or Thoreau recommended we find joy in nature.

Whatever your path to joy is, I recommend you walk along it as frequently as you can.

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