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Human Nature and Contrarianism

As I wandered through the neighborhood farmer’s market this morning with my wife I passed by this most incredible stand serving sublime French pastries.  People were literally making orgasmic sounds as they bit into some of the offerings.  It took great willpower, and the firm hand of my wife, for me to pass up the opportunity to ingest one.  This moment left me with the observation that humans are designed or even hardwired to seek and to treasure comfort.  We love to eat things with sugar and white flour, to lie on our sofa and watch a ball game or a movie or a silly reality TV show. We seem to naturally seek to avoid risk, or even hard work, and crave security, safety, and comfort.  Passing up sugar and white flour laden foods or going to the gym or for a hard run or bike ride is considered a sacrifice, connoting an opportunity for joy passed up.  Taking career risk and doing something entrepreneurial is mostly shunned in favor of finding a stable job.

Of course many people do make different life choices, preferring to move and to eat healthy, or to launch a new business. But in making these choices these people go against the grain; they deny their instincts.  And, in doing so, they mostly derive immense benefits. I know many people who can do this regularly, including my wife who has inspired me, and many others, to make choices that require the strength to fight our instincts.  By going against our hardwiring we can find great rewards, but it leaves me pondering why it is that we are wired this way. Why is it that it is difficult and unnatural to make the correct life choices – the ones that bring us true long-term rewards?

It is in this question that I believe the argument for contrarianism is most powerfully made. The easy and attractive choices, which by their very nature attract most people, are most often, if not always, the wrong ones.  It is surely fascinating to think that fulfillment and success can best be achieved by doing the opposite of what the majority do and, even more perverse, going against what our own biology drives us towards.  Perhaps this paradox can provide us with a glimpse of life’s purpose.

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