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Opinion: The disease of more


“Once people taste success, it’s a hard thing to turn down”.

Scottie Pippen, part of the iconic Chicago Bulls basketball team of the ‘90s, witnessed success as an addiction.

Often people who have achieved success, defined by happy relationships, profitable businesses, comfortable lifestyles, still do not feel satisfied and consistently reach for more. 

This is known as the ‘Disease of More’. 

This concept was first coined in a sporting context by Pat Riley, a hall of fame basketball executive, former coach and player, with 10 NBA titles to his name. 

He used the phrase as an explanation for why defending champions and successful teams ultimately lose, referencing the 1980 Lakers team.

To Riley, once the team got the championship, they wanted more: more titles, more money, more success and more credit. 

Then they lost the title.

In short: when what was once the aim has been achieved, instead of feeling satisfaction and fulfilment, people create new aims, often until they are unachievable. 

This psychological concept has been explored and expounded extensively in pop culture, and more often than not, glamourised. 

One example is Scorcese’s 2014 biopic Wolf of Wall Street which tells the story of broker Jordan Belfort, and how all the money, cars, drugs, girls and most importantly, success, in the world could not satisfy him, and actually led to his downfall.

Whilst usually less extravagant or extreme, the concept applies to ordinary people in everyday life. 

When psychologists shifted to studying happiness in the late 20th Century, some discovered that people are neither continually happy or continually depressed.

One 1980s study used the Experience-Sampling Method, in which a range of people were given pagers and told to rank their life from 1-10 when they went off. 

In fact, it found that people continually ranked their life as a 7, with anomalies lying in disasters striking leading to lower numbers and life-altering positive changes leading to higher numbers.

But, it always came back to 7 regardless of social, economic or political factors.

The 10 could never be achieved for long, and people would do more and more to try and keep that high number for longer. 

Often the way in which people expend themselves to reach for more often, actually undermines much of what they have in the first place. 

And with everything in the 21st Century being bigger, better and faster, it is no surprise that this addiction to ‘more’ continues to plague society. 

Journalist Johann Hari believes the antidote to this phenomena lies in having more needs met, and uses his theory to guide people towards a happier life. 

As humans, we have three basic needs: food, water and shelter.

Of course, in the complex lives modern people live, we recognise there are other mental, emotional, physical and psychological needs. 

According to Hari, humans need to feel four things to feel happy, or in fact, to not feel depressed: to belong; to feel that life has meaning and purpose; to understand that people see you and value you; to have a future that makes sense.

Once people stop chasing the false horizon of ‘more’, they realise they must have their personal needs met before they can truly be happy.

The point of the ‘Disease of More’ is not that succeeding doesn’t bring happiness, it’s just that there is a point to which attaining more success actually negatively affects you.

The same thesis can be used in regards to money.

A study conducted by University of Virginia in conjunction with Purdue University found that anyone earning more than (around) £70,000 a year decreased returns on emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction.

This is because increases in money make less difference the more money you have; for example an increase of £20,000 is going to impact the life of someone earning £30,000 more than a person earning £150,000. 

The data shows that money doesn’t buy you happiness, at least, not after a certain number.

The key crux to the Disease of More, is the lack of motive or meaning.

Once the motive to gain success, money or whatever is missing, for example someone wants to make money even if they have more than enough, the ‘Disease of More’ has kicked in. 

Just as Macbeth’s hamartia, or fatal flaw, was his ambition for ‘more’ whatever the cost, many people can get lost in the ‘Disease for More’ – and at what cost?

Sources: Mark Manson, TED Talks Daily, Psychology Today, Fast Company

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