It’s so easy to take progress and luxury for granted. Warren Buffet has talked about how somebody today—with the comforts of heating and air conditioning—has what a 15th-century king could have only dreamed of: being cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Yet how many of us have sat in the seasonally appropriate climate of our home and felt bad that we didn’t live somewhere bigger or nicer?
The coach section of most airplanes now has technology—electrical outlets, headrest televisions with hundreds of movie options—that first class didn’t have just a few years ago. The planes are faster and cheaper to buy tickets on too (and they are no longer filled with toxic Don Draper-era cigarette smoke). Still, we complain that they don’t serve meals anymore or that we didn’t get a free upgrade or that the seat in the emergency exit row doesn’t recline.
This is why the Stoics spent so much effort trying to limit their attachments to various comforts. They worked at being self-contained—at not needing the newest or fanciest or most expensive new luxury—because they understood that it was not only ungrateful, it was a quest that only ever ended in disappointment.
The more you are content with your surroundings, whatever they are, the more power you have. The fact that Warren Buffet still lives in a house he bought in the 1960s—because it was plenty of house for him—and that he still drives a Buick—because it was plenty of car for him—hasn’t stopped him from achieving or helping people. You can still fly first class if you like, just put it in its proper context. Which is to say, don’t complain if the satellite TV goes out when you’re over the Rockies or if they ran out of your preferred entrée option at meal service. Because if you stepped back and looked at it historically—even in your own life—you’d see just how far ahead you’ve already come.
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