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Monkeys, cucumbers, habaneros, and me.

There’s this experiment:

In this experiment:

  1. Monkey#1 completes a task, gets a cucumber slice.
  2. Monkey#2 completes a task, gets a sweet sweet GRAPE!  Importantly, Monkey#1 SEES this deal with Monkey#2 and the grape.
  3. Now Monkey#1 completes the task again, and gets a dull old cucumber slice again — NOT a tasty grape!  Aaaaand to no one’s surprise, Monkey#1 now HURLS the cucumber slice back at the experimenter.

One can say a lot about this experiment, and how this monkey business is paralleled in human nature, etc., and a lot of people are saying a lot of things here and there.  Whatever.

For me, there’s a personal lesson here, and it goes something like this: the path to happiness lies in enjoying the slice of cool fresh cucumber that I’ve got right here.  Fixating on what other people have that I do not, instead of focusing on the small happinesses right in front of me makes me an awfully dumb monkey.

Other people have more money, more prestige, more friends, more patents, more love, more chocolate, more LEDs, more time with their kids, more travel stamps in their passport, more habaneros in their garden.  If I fixate on that, all it does is sour my feelings for the good and marvelous things that I do have.  I’ve harvested a whopping six tiny little  habanero peppers from my plant this year, and I’m so proud of them you wouldn’t believe it.

Thinking further: I’m doubly dumb if I do what the first monkey did: throw away the cucumber that I have just because I didn’t get a grape!   If my neighbor harvests nine habaneros from her pepper plant, should I bitterly throw away the six I got from mine?  How does that make my life better in any way at all?  (Hint: It doesn’t.)  Can you imagine: you just won $1,000.  But then when you find out that your neighbor won $2,000, you turn around and tear up your $1,000 check. That’s of absolutely no benefit to you, no matter how envious you might feel of the extra money.

Now it is true that if I see my neighbor’s chili plant producing more than mine, I might ask her for tips, or I might wonder if she’s using the same sun that I’m using, or I might solemnly vow to treat my pepper plant better next season.  So there can be some good motivational value in seeing what I could do better next time.  But cursing out my neighbor for her success, or throwing out my own six perfectly awesome little chili peppers?  That’s behavior befitting a creature with a brain the size of a peach pit, a dumb little monkey.  But me?  I can do better. I bet you can do better, too. We all can.  We’re not mere monkeys.  We’re awesome people.

For the record, my garden this year has not only produced six habaneros, but also exactly one (1) cucumber, and I plan to enjoy that one little cucumber like crazy.

Update: the garden also produced one awesome tiny watermelon.

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