Many of us have an overwhelming desire to achieve much of what life has to offer. Without realizing it, our achievements lead us to nowhere land in which melancholy greets us enthusiastically.
Achievement for achievements sake is something many of us do not talk about nearly enough.
Striving for superficial goals for the sake of empty accolades such as status, is a one way ticket to depression.
In this article , we are going to talk about an age old truism when it comes to over prioritization of the desires that stir within.
The Devils Laughter then the Escape Clause
“Directly after copulation the devil’s laughter is heard.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
On the surface this quote by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer can be interpreted as the superficial relationship us humans have with our sexual instincts.
It is an observation of the fact that after we have sex, we enter into a refractory period, that moment of clarity we get after climax.
For many of us, during this moment of clarity, we come to realize that we are slaves to our sexual urges.
The literal interpretation of this quote can be extended to other areas of our lives such as our quest for materialism, financial success, career success, power and so on.
In the classic show, the Twilight Zone by Rod Serling, he paints this picture of the devils laughter clearly in the episode “Escape Clause.”
The mean spirited, verbally abusive hypochondriac, Walter Bedeker exchanges his soul for immortality with the devil who appears as a rotund man named “Mr. Cadwallader.”
Bedeker sets the conditions of this soul contract with which Mr. Cadwallader agrees to and Bedeker gains immortality indefinitely, that is until he gets tired of immortality at which time he can call on the fore agreed escape clause stipulated in his contract at his time of death.
Bedeker then uses his newly gained invincibility to defraud insurance companies by throwing himself down elevator shafts, in front of cars and putting himself into other dangerous situations that reaps him cash awards.
Soon he grows bored of his new found ability, attempting to up the ante while simultaneously realizing that being vulnerable was what gave his life any real thrill.
His neurotic fear of illness is what gave his life any true interest at all.
Mixing a poisonous concoction of various household cleaning supplies, Bedeker drinks it and to his wife’s surprise he doesn’t die.
“Tastes like lemonade to me.”
He then chastises his wife that she should grow an imagination and find ways for him to gain excitement after he tells her that he has sold his soul for immortality.
Bedeker comes up with the brilliant idea to jump off the roof of their building. When his wife attempts to stop him she accidentally falls off the building herself.
In a matter of fact tone, while smoking a cigarette, bedeker calls the police on himself and tells them that he killed his wife, hoping to get the electric chair.
He ends up getting a lawyer whom unexpectedly helps him to avoid the electric chair and Bedeker instead receives a life sentence.
The devil comes to his prison cell to remind him of the escape clause and at that time he uses it, not wanting to spend eternity in prison. Bedeker then immediately dies from a fatal heart attack.
The Hedonic Treadmill
After some time spent in his immortal state, Bedeker has hit his hedonic reset point which is the point at which he returns to his default state of misery.
This is the same state he was immersed in before he sold his soul to the devil.
This phenomenon is also related to “The Hedonic Treadmill” or “ Hedonic Adaptation.”
Hedonism is the pursuit of pure pleasure, self-indulgence to the max.
Unfortunately, we hit a reset point and end up on the hedonic treadmill where we start chasing a high that we will never receive again.
We see this concept play out perfectly when Bedeker gets bored then starts mixing and drinking household liquids to get that same thrill he initially experienced when he first gained immortality.
This concept dates back centuries to writers such as St. Augustine:
Quoted By Robert Burton in “Anatomy of Melancholy”
“A true saying it is, Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.”
Unconscious Pursuit of Pleasure Leads to Conscious Pursuit of Pain
Pre-immortality, Bedeker found unconscious pleasure in his whining and complaining about sicknesses he didn’t actually have.
He found excitement in having the doctor come over to treat an imaginary illness only to berate the doctor upon being told his state is psycho-somatic.
This unconscious pursuit of please is due to him forming an identity around his imaginary illnesses.
In other words his ego is built around the identity of sickness. Much similar to how angry people seem to literally identify with the emotion of anger. They commonly say “I am angry” as they are the emotion themselves.
They even pride themselves on their ability to BE as angry as possible. It is unconscious and oddly pleasurable for them.
Bedekers ego identification hits full tilt when he accepts the deal from the devil, which starts out as a pleasurable experience due to his invincibility, a type of pleasure he didn’t receive from being a hypochondriac, that is until he consciously looks for ways to hurt himself.
The extended period of hypochondriac, psycho-somatic angst leading to his faustian bargain with the devil soon guides him to consciously pursue ways to painfully end his life because pleasure no longer suffices.
He felt nothing and feeling pain was better than not being able to feel anything at all which amounted in him opting out via the escape clause.
It’s easy to observe adages such as “be careful what you wish for” and “the grass isn’t greener on the other side” but what do we do with this information.
We can avoid the devils laughter by being process oriented. By focusing on the journey to our goals rather than the goals themselves.
Process orientation blunts the hold our instinctual urges have on us because we develop discipline in delaying gratification.
Also, practicing gratitude on a regular basis while consistently giving thanks to what we do have no matter the circumstances, keeps us from succumbing to the evils of greed, covetiveness and desperation.