Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Scandinavian Shower Example

This will illustrate how far into the dark, webby corners of the internet I often go (referencing blog comments?), but in a comment on Becca's Belgian blog, someone mentioned how in Scandinavia if you're in the communal apartment shower for more than three minutes, someone will knock on the door and 'remind you that you're not in a Turkish bath or spa'.

If I were to visit that part of Scandinavia and find myself in that situation, I'd take the three minute shower so nobody thought I was a pampered brat, but in my mind, I'd be blubbering like a baby, and for the length of my visit, I'd be missing my decadent 25 minute showers where I shampoo and condition and scrub and shave and luxuriate under the near-scalding stream. I would count the days until I found myself back home, or in a high-class hotel, or anywhere at all that would accept my doing that.

In other words, it would be hard for me to change my shower habits. Do these bathroom-door-knockers spend their paltry - and environmentally responsible - showers dreaming of decadent, water-wasting, irresponsible showers? I don't know, but if anyone knows, please leave a comment and tell me. It would go a long way towards helping me to understand habits as they relate to desires.

What I'm guessing - and what I will assume until I find differently or enough people argue with me - is that they do not. There's a big mental difference between having had and lost than never having had at all (try teaching THAT as an ESL teacher). The difference between living on a $20k/year salary straight out of college - eating ramen noodles and pizza, using disgusting bathroom, and sleeping in creaking bunk beds - and living on a $20k/year salary after living for 30 years making six figures - driving around in luxury cars, eating in gourmet restaurants, and travelling the world with little regard to cost - is huge.

Both individuals will, I'm sure, long for more money. Both might play the lottery, constantly skim job ads looking for something better, gamble, feel jealous of richer friends (and help coin the term 'more successful' for them - what is the deal with that phrase??), et cetera. But the second individual featured will also feel not only a sense of loss, and maybe guilt or regret, for whatever they did to lose what they had, and maybe shame, for falling 'below' their old friends, but also - and I think this would be the hardest to deal with - a complete disconnect from the comforts and habits of their old life. They'll instinctively try keep their weekly massage appointments, their semi-weekly golf dates, their monthly trips to Mexico, then realize there's no place in the budget for them. When they have to miss these things, and instead sit at home in their new austere apartment with its bare walls and food from the grocery store, they'll feel depressed. And they'll think, 'how do people live like this?'

People, namely my parents, have implied this when they have visited me in the studio apartments of the past. They can't believe I don't have: a microwave/an oven/a shower mat/a proper bed, rather than a futon on the floor. They wouldn't be able to live without these things and assume I wouldn't either.

But hardly anyone who's lived on that salary all their life would sit at home feeling depressed because they couldn't get massages, play golf, and go to Mexico. It would feel ridiculous to do it. It's not that they wouldn't want to get massages, play golf, and go to Mexico, but it wouldn't feel like a loss in their life, like something vitally necessary was missing.

It is harder to change to something 'lesser than', than to have lived at the 'lesser than' level and to continue to live there. Even though the end result is the same. The conditions are the same. Human necessities for life remain the same (and incidentally, are set far lower than the 'lower than' conditions I've set out). These two people could be living identical lives, but their perceptions of them will make the lives seem radically different.

The conclusion of that little aside doesn't, however, lead to the further extrapolated conclusion that 'change is hard'. It's not difficult for a person suddenly given a $100k raise or in the sudden possession of lottery winnings to adjust to a life of luxury. It can take less than a month, I'm sure. And no person will then lay back on their massage bed in a hotel on a Caribbean beach and long for their tiny, noisy, dirty apartment. They won't miss paying the minimum balance on their credit card and living with tooth pain because dentists are expensive and worrying about whether time off from work will be paid or unpaid and how that'll affect their upcoming yearly family reunion. Habits in that case fall flat. They're dropped like hotplates. Things that have been second nature for years go out the window with no trouble whatsoever.

So the new extrapolated conclusion would be what - 'Change is hard when _______'?

It's not 'Change is hard when you're moving from something simple to something complicated.' Managing millions of dollars is not simple. Hiring an accountant to do your crazy taxes after you invest your money in a bunch of stocks is not simple. Organizing your jaunts to other countries around the builder for your new mansion's schedule is not simple. And I'm not sure that anyone would call it fun, either.

It's not 'Change is hard when you're moving from something better for you to something worse for you.' Rich people aren't necessarily known for their sunny personalities and cheery dispositions. They're also not known for their healthy lifestyles. Just because someone has a lot of money doesn't mean they're going to buy wheatgrass shots and royal jelly spoonfuls and hire a raw food chef and a personal trainer. And speaking of personal trainers, if the above conclusion were true, then beginning a workout regimen would be easy. Nothing more needs to be said to disprove THAT one.

Is it 'Change is hard when you're moving from something comfortable to something uncomfortable?' Maybe. Comfort is obviously hard to define, as in, say when lounging around on the couch watching video marathons is relaxing and fun and easy to do, but causes a sick sort of emptiness when you're done (the emptiness I would personally categorize as very uncomfortable).

Perhaps comfort only comes after someone has settled into a habit, and comfort is only another word for familiarity, in which case the above conclusion is a tricky little circle of logic that only leads to the following: Change itself is (initially) uncomfortable. Which, as we have already seen in the case of lottery winner, it is not.

'Change is hard when __________.' Fill in the blank in the comments. I will continue trying to do so myself.


Becca said...

change is hard when you're already happy with what you have

Hannah said...

My first response to that was 'change is unnecessary when you're already happy with what you have. But on second look I guess you're right. If you're all the way happy with what you had, it would be hard if someone forced you to change.

Dan R said...

I find it harder to change the more I'm asked to change.

In both senses of that comment.