When I was growing up, the Lorax was one of my favorite books. In case you have not read it, the idea behind the story is that the Once-ler, an ambitious businessman, infringes on the home of the Lorax, a wise guardian of the forest. The Lorax lives inside a truffula tree, the very type of tree the Once-ler needs to create his thneeds. The Once-ler sells his thneeds by promising: “This thing is most useful! This thing is a ‘thneed.’ A thneed, a fine something-that-all-people-need!” Of course, the demand for the thneeds outweighs the supply of the truffula trees. Eventually, the environment that the Lorax once lived in diminishes to truffula stumps.
While Dr. Suess probably crafted this book as an analogy about the threat that the free market economy has on the environment, there is also a much broader interpretation. In the story, thneeds were an ambiguous product with no inherent value, but everyone felt as though they needed it. Similarly, 1k followers, the slim-thicc body, and a promotion convince us that we desperately need these things to be happy. Of course, none of these aims are guaranteed to bring a meaningful life. The more we try to find our thneed, whatever it happens to be, the more elusive the feeling we are searching for becomes. Unfortunately, we can be so focused on attaining these goals that we forget about how we can find tranquility.
Living in a world where everything seems to be a need and not a want, we can become perpetually focused on attaining some ideal. Telling ourselves that we will be okay only when we become richer, smarter, or trendier ironically makes us less okay. Self-love and meaningful relationships are the only way to break this cycle. Once we realize this—that satisfaction and self-love are available to us at any moment—we truly will be better off.
In short, if the Once-ler was only a wee bit older and wiser, maybe he’d say: “self-love, a fine something-that-all-people-need!”