Why do we want better?

Philip Morgan

If someone (me!) wanted to have a better model with which to answer the question "Why do some people want to improve their condition?", are there any books/papers/articles you'd recommend I read?

I ate a lot of vegetables reviewing Goal Constructs in Psychology: Structure, Process, and Content and I felt like it would have been helpful if I had a more foundational understanding of this question, or was working with a basic-but-functional model that that paper could help me evolve or replace with a better one.

I want a model that helps with questions like the one above, and related ones like these:

  • Why do some people go for quick fixes and others for deeper transformation?
  • Why are some people "hungry" for novelty and change and others not?

Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life has been recommended to me, but the intro turned me off. (Is there good stuff later in the book?) Some secondary sources on Girardian mimetic theory have been interesting, but the theory itself strikes me as simplistic and abstract (but definitely interesting, and Girard's scapegoating idea seems to cast some light on how Internet mobs work).

I’ve got one ear open to the way ancient wisdom literature answers this question, but in the other ear I’d like to hear the POV of science.

Anyone got recommendations for me, even long-shot options? Thanks!


PS: This bit about Wanting makes me reflect on my "strategy" for reading the business books I'm not sure I will get value from, which involves skimming the book backwards first to see if it seems worthy of a full read. I know, I know. Ideally I would do this differently. Ideally, I would recline on my crushed velvet fainting couch with a bone china cup of lukewarm tea and let the author's intent and structure and insight wash over me like a warm mudslide of brilliance, but I do not live in that idealized world. (If you do, please send me a postcard.)

So instead, I:

  • Move through the book's content from back to front
  • Read the last few paragraphs of each chapter in full
  • Skim the first few paragraphs of each chapter to see whether the author has succumbed to an editor who wants to waste my time with an insipid framing story

And then I decide whether to read the book in full the normal way. I don't do this with every business book, but the ones that look like members of a certain sub-genre do get this treatment.

I'd like to think my book would fare pretty well. The last chapter is where I, via a Pink Floyd quote, compare my readers to mad geniuses. That's both a snappy ending and an auspicious beginning!

But this approach does not work with Amazon Kindle book samples, which seem to always start at the beginning and cover a seemingly-random subset of the book's length. And so I can't apply me preferred method to Kindle samples. Oh, the humanity. :-)