My friend Erik wrote here about the fear-want-fear treadmill that is so familiar to most of us. He got me thinking about entitlement, a common emotional precursor to the insatiable wanting of things.
It's common these days to blame millennials for exhibiting early onset entitlement. But what about us older folks? As Erik wrote, most of us have no shortage of wants. So as time closes in, do they amplify and cause us greater unhappiness, or recede and let us off the hook?
Then, like magic, an email came in from Peter Attia, an extremely bright American MD whom I admire. His podcast called Drive explores cutting-edge research about health, longevity, and other intriguing topics that challenge his large brain. I'm not much of a podcast listener. But I want to listen to Attia. Lately, I've learned a lot about hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women, the dire need in us all for good quality sleep, and what happens when we flood ourselves with cortisol, which many of us do often.
In his email, Attia wrote:
" ...the question I was pondering was a little different: are entitled people less happy? ...
I know that I’m almost invariably at my worst when I’m feeling most entitled. If something isn’t going my way, I often get frustrated and lash out, and the reality is the thing that isn’t going my way is often outside of my control.
While I don’t know if we can have a black and white answer to the question, this 2016 article is admittedly a nice fit for my confirmation bias. They define entitlement as ‘a personality trait characterized by pervasive feelings of deservingness, specialness, and exaggerated expectations.’ They go on to describe how entitlement may be a problem for the entitled person, proposing a vicious cycle: ‘entitlement presents the individual with the possibility of experiencing distress, predisposes further risk factors for distress..., and increases the risk of interpersonal conflict, again leading to distress.’
When I think about healthspan — the how ‘well’ you live part of longevity — I think of three components: cognitive, physical, and emotional. It’s this last one that is disproportionately getting my attention."
Excess entitlement is a no-win characteristic. It's one of those toxins we administer to ourselves that are guaranteed to do damage.
As I'm fond of saying (to myself, anyway), this too seems like another great retirement project — entitlement reduction. It fits inside humility, one of the pillars of advanced personhood.
Louis L'Amour, the late American writer of cowboy novels, explained nicely how excess want pulls us away from ourselves, or at least the selves we might want to be:
“We are, finally, all wanderers in search of knowledge. Most of us hold the dream of becoming something better than we are, something larger, richer, in some way more important to the world and ourselves. Too often, the way taken is the wrong way, with too much emphasis on what we want to have, rather than what we wish to become.”