The Short Shelf Life of the Next New Thing

Lael Arrington's picture

A new year often brings new projects, new classes, new jobs, even new romance. We are hardwired from the factory to long for the next new thing. And yet the joy of the new doesn’t last. The New York Times reports that “newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years…"

"...The reason is that human beings are, as more than a hundred studies show, prone to hedonic adaptation, a measurable and innate capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes.”

Variety and especially surprise “affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do — that is, they trigger activity that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine, as do pharmacological highs.” But then gradually the brain adapts. The highs aren’t quite so high. After two years passionate love transitions to companionate love. “New love seems nearly as vulnerable to hedonic adaptation as a new job, a new home, a new coat and other novel sources of pleasure and well-being. (Though the thrill of a new material acquisition generally fades faster.)” (You would think that after cleaning out our closets for umpteen garage sales we would embrace this fact. But who can resist a 50% off coupon?)

Even the delight in a new ministry or church or pastor fades, often in year three. Divorces spike in year three of marriage. Romantic illusions hit the wall of reality. The “new” wears off. I’ve wondered, why would God wire us that way?

God has set eternity in our hearts—a state where all things are made new. The longing for the new propels us forward. Nurtures a desire for change, growth, transformation. And transformation is God’s main business (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Yet transformation is also a matter of endurance (Romans 5:3-5). The True Grit test I referenced in my last blog asks many questions that quantify our inclination to choose the pursuit of the new over perseverance (“I finish whatever I begin” vs. “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.”) Those who scored highest on the True Grit test were most likely to graduate from West Point and attain so many of the rewards and honors of life.

Ironically, as we lean into Jesus to endure in difficult relationships, tedious jobs, and boring circumstances God transforms us into the new person we long to become, full of steadfast love, power and self-control.

Where does God have you this year? Is he leading you into something new or asking you to stay and endure? Perhaps the staying and enduring is transforming you more than the constant stimulation of the next new thing.

After eighteen years in our last ministry and all our lives in Texas, God brought us to lead a new church in South Carolina two and a half years ago. The new is wearing off now. Our church family has really gotten to know us and we have gotten to know them (and love them!). Not as many surprises to discover on either side.

Yet as we do life together we see God continually doing new things—big, transforming, surprising things—especially among outsiders just finding their way into our circle and those who are new to our church. The more we endure in prayer, in reaching out, in not growing weary of doing good, the more we see it. When we run after new things the buzz eventually fades. But when we run after God and he does the new things…that is life fully alive. Fully joyful.

"Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

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