Upgrades and Happiness

My brother moved into a new apartment over the weekend and as we were gathering his stuff together, I realized he didn’t have a large HDTV for football season. As a student of ancient history and a starving academic, he’s grown accustomed to austerity. But seeing as we’ve both been NFL junkies since childhood, as his older brother, I couldn’t let that stand.

Besides, after seven years with my perfectly good 42” projection LCD HDTV, I was feeling the itch for an upgrade. You know, a Samsung flat panel, hang it on the wall, drool-worthy HDTV. I figured if I gave him my old, perfectly good HDTV for his new apartment, I’d have a great reason for an upgrade and he’d save some money. It was a clear win-win to me. So, as I write this post, my apartment is sans TV — maybe that’s why my blogging juices are flowing –- and I’m sans a sizeable chunk of cash.

My shiny new Samsung gets delivered this week. I spent a shade more than I wanted to, and I’m waiting for buyer’s remorse. It might have started already; hopefully that fades when it’s finally hooked up and I’m giggling at my DVR archive of Tosh.0 episodes of pixelated YouTube footage in stunning 1080p plasma glory.

But this purchase, along with today’s blog post by Elisabeth Michaud, got me thinking: Why are we so hung up on upgrading all the time, in all facets of life? Is nothing ever good enough? Her post is about peers treating their romantic relationships like their careers, and she advises them to stop doing it. It’s a concise missive, and when I read it today, it actually left me wanting more, one hallmark of any great piece of writing. Even better than that, she got me to think, and in this case, she got me to think about this idea of the ever-looming upgrade. It’s a concept that’s bothered me for a while, and I continue to feel its intrusion in multiple aspects of life.

Our economy is largely predicated on selling us disposable things we don’t really need. We’re constantly reminded that there’s always something bigger and better out there. Be them houses, cars, TVs, jobs, social status, mates, friends, bodies, or anything you can think of, there’s always another upgrade to be had. And we’ve foolishly convinced ourselves we truly deserve it and desperately need it.

Maybe we do deserve some of it. But the trend disturbs me, and left unchecked, habitual upgrading breeds dissatisfaction with everyday life. If you’re always looking for something better, can you ever truly be content? Does the cycle ever end?

These aren’t new questions, and if my TV story didn’t make it clear, I’m your typical red-blooded American male, susceptible to the wiles of shiny new electronics, Apple products and other material possessions. But when it comes to relationships, career and life in general, I’ve always been one to appreciate my surroundings. I’d like to think that won’t change. But the older I get, the less contentment I recognize in others.

Before this post turns into Jerry Maguire’s mission statement, allow me to reiterate: it’s OK to drool over that new iPad or a bigger apartment. But the next time you start thinking your girlfriend isn’t successful enough, or the weather is more agreeable in another city, take a step back. Rethink it before you, um, upgrade. Are you really missing out? What need remains unfulfilled? Are you unhappy, or just bored? It’s worth consideration.

As for my new HDTV? If it turns out to be a mistake, I’ve got 30 days to bring it back to Best Buy, no questions asked.

Life, on the other hand, doesn’t come with a return policy.

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