“Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race” is a thought-provoking book by Todd G. Buchholz.
In this book, Buchholz claims that competition itself — although sloppy, risky, and tense — can bring us happiness. It is the very pursuit of love, new knowledge, wealth, and status that delivers a “rush,” lights up our brains, releases dopamine, and ignites our passion. Furthermore, he argues that the cause and effect relationship between competition and happiness is hardwired into every one of us.
Throughout the book, the “rat race” metaphor is used and questioned. The term “rat race” is used in psychology, to describe an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit. It conjures up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat to escape a maze, or running in a wheel. In an analogy to the modern city, many rats in a single maze expend a lot of effort running around, but ultimately achieve nothing meaningful, either collectively or individually. “Rat race” is a often used to describe work, particularly excessive work; in general terms, if one works too much, one is running a rat race. It carries the implication that many people see work as a seemingly endless pursuit with little reward or purpose. So, in general, the rat race is something negative, to be avoided. Todd G. Buchholz definitely opposes this view, and he tries to prove why the “rat race” is necessary, backing up this thesis with scientific research.
According to his book, neuroscientists report that when a person begins to take risks, whether it’s gambling or making a business offer, his left prefrontal cortex lights up, signaling a natural high. Alpha waves and oxygenated blood surge to brain. Sitting alone in a small tent in the countryside does not yield the same effects. Likewise, our competitive urges cannot be separated from our desire to learn more. The author believes that competition fosters learning. A contented person stops learning, but a person working against competition continues learning.
And old Latin phrase describes man’s struggle thus: “homo homini lupus” (“man is wolf to man”). Wolves do cooperate, in nursing their young or hunting a deer. They cooperate because they are engaged in competition with nature. Likewise, early man was often running away from predators or other dangers. Competition against predators and the unforgiving planet forced people to cooperate with one another. Competition begets cooperation. According to the author of this book, “Competition is the root of our success,” not a path to misery.
The author uses the analogy of Eden in his book to explain the benefits of competition. Once Adam and Eve left Eden, apples no longer fell at our feet. We had to plant and reap. Or take a six a.m. train to work. We seek success because it validates our lives, and gives us a feeling that we are worth loving, and that we were worth the love and effort our parents lavished on us. Money has a place in our lives, but money is simply a convenient way for society to arrange economic relations. If everyone were paid the same amount, if everyone lived in the same house, our minds would receive no signal that we are expending our energy in a prudent or productive way. The dollars we gain from work spark an aboriginal sentiment that excites the vital juices that keep our hearts beating and the oxygen flowing to our brains. They signal to us that we will disappear from the world stage due to natural competition.
Success is not always defined by money. Many talented people deliberately choose careers that do not yield bulging paychecks; for example, professors, ministers, chefs, and playwrights. Yet they may consider themselves enormously successful. If they feel successful their happiness quotient will likely exceed that of someone who earns more money but considers himself unsuccessful.
Buchholz comes to some conclusions: First, any system involving more than a few people will be competitive after a few years. Second, we can not return to Eden, because human beings are no longer suited for paradise. Third, people are driven to work and succeed, because work makes them feel better about themselves, and succeeding at work validates their lives and gives them a greater chance of perpetuating their genes. Finally, without competitive urges, people would die earlier.
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