Immensely powerful ideological forces cajole us to think of every problem as a material presence of pain or lack of pleasure with an existing or potential material solution. If your nose is too big, have it fixed. If there's nothing good on TV, worry not, there are more channels coming.
But no matter how many pains you numb or pleasures you attain, it all amounts to the emptiness of needing a new need. As Goethe said, "Nothing is more unbearable than a succession of fair days."
A certain corollary of Shaw's little maxim is expressed (to drop another big name) in Cassanova's famous remark that, "The best feeling in life is when one is climbing the stairs."
In other words, the best feeling in life is the feeling of knowing clearly what you want and believing you're going to get it. So a person who cultivates a capacity to continually formulate new desires, alongside a general confidence of attaining them, becomes independent of particular objects of desire, of outcomes, and to a degree, of fate itself.
This is the classic recipe for fulfillment. And the only people who ever make it come out right are those who go out of their way to make things hard for themselves. Those who do the opposite of what their television tells them. Not a death wish, but more like a taste for the unfamiliar.
For example, Henry David Thoreau was a notoriously satisfied individual, and not coincidentally, he taught himself to need nothing but sky, a few beans, and the contents of his head.
Muhammed Ali, meanwhile, is perhaps the most contented man alive today, and not coincidentally, as a boxer and a persona he always did everything the hardest way possible, brashly predicting knockouts, demanding the toughest opponents, turning white America against him, and so forth.
The sport of adventure racing caters to, and reinforces, a disposition toward taking the hard way. It's impossible to complete an expedition-level adventure race without pushing outward your sense of personal limits and truing your sense of what is actually needful.
Says Robert Nagle, "the reason why I race is because I know we'll put ourselves in circumstances where we'll have to work something through and I'll come back a little bit enriched. Not that I'll have stepped over some limit, necessarily, but my understanding is deeper."
Let's allow Nagle to close this one out: "Life is not a static game," he continues.
"You don't figure out the answer and then play that hand time and time again. The world evolves, you evolve within it, the circumstances you're in are different all the time. You need to always be invigorated about what you're doing. Now, that doesn't mean you need to be constantly in a state of buzz. I'm not this hyperactive person who's going to react to every stimulus. But if one year is like the previous year and it looks like the next year is going to be the same again, then that's a pretty dull kind of life."
Sign up for your next race.