I was up and on the road at an early time today. Early enough, in fact, to be graced with the wondrous experience of rush hour. Thousands of cars inching along, going about half the normal speed limit, sitting at a light while it goes from green to red three times without you making it through. And this was in Southeast Michigan—so I know this apparent suffering is nothing compared to what those in the West Coast cities must endure on a daily basis.
But is it really that bad? It’s inconvenient for sure. It makes you wake up earlier, and maybe have to take a different route than you normally would or would want to. But as I was driving today I couldn’t help but marvel at how good we really have it today. 150 years ago a huge number of us probably wouldn’t even be alive with the population of the United States being over 10 times smaller than it is today according to census data from the time. And for those of us who were lucky enough to have been born, most of us would toiling in the fields (~64% of Americans worked in agriculture in 1850) from sun up to sun down six days a week, with a small but increasing number able to work 60-70 hours a week in a factory.
Now I’m not trying to preach that we should shut up and be happy with what we’ve got. Our problems and the things that annoy us are still very annoying and troubling regardless of how many hours a farm hand worked in the hot sun in 1858. We should always seek to improve our situation in whatever way we can. And persisting problems or inconveniences present a near endless list of opportunities for entrepreneurs to further improve our everyday lives. That’s not the point though.
The point is that many of society’s problems today arise because many people have lost their sense of curiosity—their sense of wonder. When sitting frustrated in traffic we tend to focus our thoughts on how the world is out to get us and how we can’t seem to ever catch a break. We don’t tend to think about the sheer awesomeness of the fact that there is so much wealth in modern society that there are enough people with cars to literally clog thousands of miles of road every day. We don’t think about the amount of ingenious coordination and individual savvy that provides the fuel for all of these thousands of vehicles.
I’ve written similar things (see The Amazing World We Live In) about this before and I must say again that this lack of marvel is at the very least a huge shame, and more likely, dangerous. Because when we lose that sense of curiosity—when we aren’t inquisitive about how the world around us works we run the risk of falling into the self-fulfilling (albeit demonstrably false) prophecy that the world is somehow worse today or getting worse. The contrary is of course undeniably true. But although the modern world is better, safer, more fun, and more exciting in nearly every way, if we take that for granted, if we start to have the mindset that things “just get better” or progress “just happens” by virtue of time and not effort, then we may see progress start to slow.
There’s reason kids are happy so much of the time. It’s because they wonder and they are constantly asking questions. The world excites them because it is big and there is so much to learn. The same is still true of adults—if they would only recognize it. Train yourself to do just that. When you are at a gas station think about the journey that gas has made to get to your tank, wonder how many customers have to come by that station for the owner to make a sizeable profit, think about how crazy it is that we can use such a dangerous substance so safely—and maybe even think how we could do it better. Ask yourself why products in the grocery store are organized how they are or how McDonald’s can sell quality food so cheaply and uniformly all over the world.
Put simply, BE CURIOUS! Inquire about the world and never let it cease to amaze you how magnificent people have made it. So next time you are stuck in traffic on your way to work marvel at the fact that you are in a heated (or cooled) car, sitting on a comfy ergonomically designed seat listening to an array of media from music, comedy, news, talk, etc. Think about what entrepreneurs and businessmen and workers have done to make your world more comfortable, and use that as your starting point for how it could be improved further. That’s how advancement happens and that’s how you can fill your days with more happiness than frustration or anger. Choose to be happy and get out there and marvel!