Prisoners of Our Own Device (Day 88)

(photo credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park 441 by Ernie Tyler on

Sheena Iyengar, in her book The Art Of Choosing, asks us to imagine being offered the opportunity to go to the ultimate luxury hotel with 600-thread count bedsheets and down pillows on king-sized beds, gourmet food on demand, spa treatments, a beautiful swimming pool, pleasant staff that meets your every need, and state-of-the-art medical facilities. You can bring your family and friends and everything is free of charge. The only catch is that once you check in, you can’t check out.

Would you seize the opportunity? Or would you decline?

It sounds like a sweet deal, but can we live happily when we don’t have anything to do except enjoy the pleasures all around us? When everything we want or need is within reach at all times?

Iyengar describes how zoo animals of today are surrounded by the simulated wild that is an attempt to replicate their natural habitats and are provided with food, shelter and safety from predators. But there’s a great deal of proof that zoo animals don’t do well under these “perfect” conditions. The animals’ deeply ingrained survival instincts cannot be played out on this artificial turf. Birds can’t migrate; bears can’t hoard food for the winter. The level of stimulation and exercising of natural instincts that animals experience in the wild, Iyengar says, cannot be matched by even the most sophisticated zoos.

In the imagination, a place where all of our physical and psychological needs are met without any work on our part, seems to be exactly what would make us happy.

So we dream.

And we work our butts off trying to make enough money to acquire the “good life” or we pray to God to show us how to be the kind of people who will reside in Heaven.

I wonder, though, if the dream came true and I were suddenly in this heavenly dimension, would I be content? Would you? Or would you try to escape, the way many zoo animals do? Or become so stressed out because you feel purposeless? Or lose all motivation as the result of not having any unmet needs?

I love all of the lyrics from the Eagles’ song, “Hotel California” but it is after he has arrived at the luxurious hotel with mirrors on the ceilings and pink champagne on ice, that the singer realizes that what he thought he wanted was not at all what he wanted:

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”

Most of us are currently residing in “the place I was before.” If we could figure out, in the here and now, how to create a life that brings us joy, when we get to the next place, be it heaven or a multi-million dollar estate on our own private island, we will have the tools necessary to recreate the kind of happiness that will sustain us.



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2 thoughts on “Prisoners of Our Own Device (Day 88)

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