The May 2022 issue of The Atlantic: The Commons

The satisfaction trap

No matter what we achieve or achieve, Arthur C. Brooks wrote in March, our biology always leaves us wanting more. But there is a way out.

Perhaps Arthur C. Brooks has spent too much time in hyper-ambitious DC and hyper-competitive Cambridge, Massachusetts. His view that people are constantly looking for success and admiration does not describe the world I live in. People hope for meaningful jobs but are content with those who pay the bills. It is not a failure to find joy; that’s exactly what most of us have to do. We then hope that we can save enough money and/or benefits to be able to live a satisfying life in retirement, downsizing as we go. Yes, some people are fascinated by shiny things and dislike the everyday. But I don’t think that’s true for as many people as Mr. Brooks assumes.

Martha Lemmon
Williamstown, New Jersey


“The Satisfaction Trap” by Arthur C. Brooks contains a lot of wisdom. Contrary to popular belief, owning more things will not bring satisfaction. Brooks relies on the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Buddha to make his point, but his assertion that they “were saying the same thing” misses the mark. Buddhism teaches that detachment is the goal. Desire is the problem. Thomism, however, teaches that humans were created to desire God. When our desire is disordered, we seek satisfaction in other things instead. It turns out that St. Thomas and the Buddha have very different answers to the question “Why should I stop desiring more possessions?”

Stewart Clem
Saint Louis, Mo.


I enjoyed Arthur C. Brooks’ article on satisfaction and how to foster it. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of a more contemporary lyricist whose words would apply well here. On the first track of Billie Eilish’s latest album (aptly titled happier than ever), she sings, “Things I used to love / Just keep me a job now. / Things I crave / One day I’ll be bored. It struck me as an excellent description of the hedonic treadmill, and one that Brooks’ daughter might appreciate more than Mick Jagger’s.

Ella Riley Adams
Brooklyn, New York


Although Arthur C. Brooks is most likely correct that the good feeling of (finally) having a letter published in Atlantic is probably ephemeral, composing them gives me satisfaction. Coming full circle with the rock and roll theme, Sheryl Crow joins Aquinas, the Buddha and Mick Jagger in observing that “it’s not having what you want. / It’s wanting what you have. Professor Brooks provides an excellent roadmap to guide us out of the maze of dissatisfaction.

Alldredge Gene
Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


January 6 was training

Donald Trump is in a better position to overturn an election now than he was in 2020, argued Barton Gellman in the January/February issue.


Of the many chilling aspects of Barton Gellman’s excellent article, perhaps the scariest is the doctrine of “independent state legislatures” developed by conservative legal activists. It strikes me that this idea — that state legislatures can overrule the will of their constituents and choose how to conduct elections without federal influence — is nothing more than a new “cancellation doctrine.” This goes back to a very old idea of ​​American politics: that the states, not the citizens, are the fundamental unit of participation in the republic, and that no voter or federal official can tell them what to do. This idea was mostly used to defend slavery against federal attempts to prevent its spread, and was also the source of resistance to desegregation.

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Gellman quotes Steve Bannon who explains both how central and serious this idea is for the anti-democratic movement. Bannon says, “The state legislatures are the center of gravity…People are going back to the original interpretation of the Constitution. Unfortunately, many citizens can probably be convinced that he is right. It will be up to media institutions like this magazine to make the issues clear: either we as a country believe in democracy, or we believe in several archaic institutions and the legitimacy of ideas that have never been used for evil purposes.

Benjamin Olneck-Brown
washington d.c.


behind the cover

In her cover story this month, Jessica Bruder reports on the underground network preparing for a post-deer America (“The Abortion Underground”). Such networks existed before the 1973 Supreme Court decision and never completely disappeared. For many Americans,deer already feels meaningless,” writes Bruder. “Nearly 90% of US counties do not have a clinic offering abortions.” The cover shows an invisible female figure, hinting at a future in which women seeking to terminate a pregnancy must do so in the shadows.

Olivier Munday, design director


From archive

For her feature film ‘The Shadow Royals’, writer Helen Lewis traveled to Tirana, Albania to meet Prince Leka II, heir to the country’s late throne. When Mussolini invaded Albania in 1939, Leka’s grandfather, King Zog, fled with his family and was later prevented from returning by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. (Leka was 20 when her family returned to Albania in 2002.)

Most non-Communists had no means of visiting the country during Hoxha’s rule. But in 1963, a writer for Atlantic found a way in. British journalist James Cameron had written a book about China and “moved through all the communist states”, he wrote, but Albania – “the last Marxist paradise” – was “the one that seemed impenetrable”. So when he heard of an opportunity to go there with a tour group from Munich, he jumped at the chance to satisfy his “collector’s curiosity”.

Cameron’s result Atlantic The dispatch is made up for one third of geopolitical analyzes and for two thirds of travelogues. Hoping to disguise himself as a tourist, Cameron arrives in Tirana without a notebook or any ability to speak the language, and quickly offends the authorities by sending a telegram to a London newspaper describing the country as “isolated”. The article says as much about Cameron as it does about the place he is visiting. He complains of the “utterly undrinkable wine” and the “indescribably appalling” food, and of having nothing to read (his books were confiscated upon his arrival by communist officials). Albania, he concludes, is “a difficult place to call home”.

Today, Tirana is a very different city; some parts would be unrecognizable to Cameron. The neighborhood where Hoxha and his politburo once “isolated themselves from a disgruntled population,” Lewis reports, is now “the hottest neighborhood in town, where you can drink espresso and eat sushi in the sun.” .

Will Gordon, Associate Editor


Fixes: “Loving the Bald Eagle to Death” (march) misspelled the name of the Native American tribe; the correct spelling is Te’po’ta’ahl. “The Betrayal” (March) misrepresented Alex McCoy’s role in the Common Defense organization; McCoy is the group’s co-founder and was, until September, its political director. Due to an editing error, the article also included an incorrect list of forms required for a special immigrant visa.

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