I went with my wife to watch the rebooted version of ‘Jungle Book’ earlier this year at the IMAX theatre in Hyderabad. Both of us were looking forward to the movie but as we settled in our seats, a few young kids walked in and sat in the row ahead of us along with their parents. They were young school kids, not more than 10 or 12, and were grinning, smiling and really thrilled to be there. I could sense their curiosity about the movie and the sheer excitement in their little voices as they chatted among themselves.
Watching their antics took me to another time, say a good 15 years in the past. A time when my parents took my sister and me to Sangeet theatre in Secunderabad to watch an animated movie. If memory serves me right, I think it was Toy Story 2 and I was absolutely overjoyed to be there. The mere act of going to a movie theatre was quite exciting for me at that time and the fact that it was an animated movie made the occasion even more special. I told all my friends at school about it and bugged my parents with endless questions about the movie, which they patiently answered. Funnily enough, I do not remember anything about the movie, the storyline, and whether it was good or bad. But the event must have been special enough to create a permanent impression on me, strong enough that I vividly recall it even now, more than a decade and half later.
Today, as a responsible adult, I rarely find anything as exciting as that. If I want to go to a movie in the theatre, then I just book tickets on my phone and turn up for the show. If I want to go out for a nice meal, I ask my wife if she is free, make plans and go to the restaurant. If I want a new book, I order it on Amazon and it reaches my doorstep few days later. If I want to listen to a specific song, I fire up Spotify or Apple Music and stream it. No need to ask parents for weeks together or save up money for it. No need to plan days in advance or stand in long lines. No need to wait till my parents take me to the bookstore or music store. I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, aided by the convenience of technology.
It is almost comical how I am complaining that life has become so easy. Too easy perhaps. The inexplicable joy of delayed gratification is missing. Activities and material goals that would have historically required some amount of effort to achieve are now taken for granted. Our brains are naturally hard wired to work towards a specific goal and be rewarded when the goal is attained. But when that act happens too quickly and too often, the brain automatically gets numbed to these casual successes. I think this explains the recent rise in popularity of marathons. To successfully complete a marathon, you have to train for an extended period of time before you can achieve that specific goal. And there is no way around. The physical act of sweating, panting and pushing your body to achieve something beyond your comfort zone is an unique satisfaction in itself.
As a child, everything is new to you. Even the smallest of things seems like a worldly wonder and casual toys become priceless possessions. But growing old comes hand in hand with becoming cynical. When you are young, you are always looking forward to becoming a grown-up so you can do whatever you want, eat as many chocolates as physically possible and stay up as late as you can. Turns out that all those things aren’t really that interesting. Sure, the first few years are fun. The golden age of freedom without responsibilities but then reality sets in soon after.
I am constantly on the hunt to find new places, events and activities that would excite me. An endless pursuit to keep the dopamine flowing and the mind motivated. What seemed impressive yesterday is boring today. And the world is moving in a similar direction too. Everyone has shorter attention spans and is looking for the “next big thing”, whatever that may be. And once we achieve that “next big thing”, we are instantly tired of it. I could long for a few months to buy a new Microsoft Surface Pro but I am fairly certain that I will get bored of it within a week of buying it. There is no greater thrill than the unknown or unattainable.
The real challenge today is to motivate oneself with long term goals as well as short term goals. For many photographers like me, being self employed means that there is no promotion, performance review or assessment. There is no peer group or higher-ups to tell you what is right or wrong. And the only benchmark that the outside world considers is financial. How much money you earn, which celebrities you hang out with and what car you drive define you to the public. In the face of these false goals, it is vital to keep an internal benchmark for yourself and not get unduly seduced by outward appearances. What challenges and motivates you? What does success mean to you? What does a fulfilling life look like?
Maybe I need to start running marathons.