On the perfect thing
The search for the best, most optimized, beautiful, light, and pleasing things.
Why do we search?
Scrolling through my RSS feeds, I’m reminded daily that so much stuff exists. I subscribe to newsletters for fashion, backpacks, apps, and general tech, and every single one has an endless march through the days of new things. This app has two columns for editing! This backpack is “able to transition from work to play and travel.” These are the best socks.
I could go on.
The search for the best thing is best represented by the website The Wirecutter, with its incredibly thorough reviews of the best things in almost every category you can imagine. Started by a guy and his friends to get out of the grind of tech reporting, they began to painstakingly investigate categories of tech, gear, and housewares to recommend one thing you could buy. My friend’s homes are filled with these best things. Hell, mine is too. They’re right most of the time, save for when taste or niche need intervenes. But why do we care?
Supposedly, experiences make us happier than stuff, but we still buy a good amount of stuff. Talking with friends, it seems like most of us like to think we’re getting a deal—by buying the best thing, we’re ensuring that our dollar goes furthest. The single thing we’re buying is categorically superior, and knowing that means we can stop looking, secure in the knowledge that we’ve made the right decision. And yet, I still browse these sites.
There’s a sense, at least for me, that something could be better. A new thing might suit my needs, or a specific complaint better. Yes, I have a raincoat, but do I have one I can wear near a campfire? Actually, yes, yes I do. In an effort to be minimal in my ownership of things, I’ve also bought quite a few of them. The irony is not lost on me.
The happiness factor
Honestly, I own three backpacks, and three raincoats, because each of them is the best at some aspect of making me smile. There’s no way to quantify this that I’m aware of, but everyone has a thing, or things that are so neat or personal that every use or interaction with them is a small joy. And we all want to spark joy, right? As hokey as I’m sure many of you think Konmari’s Shinto-sequel philosophy of things is, it has certainly helped me in pinpointing why I own them. I pared back my clothing, and donated bags of tech detritus. And yet, I still look for new joys.
Whether it’s a new iOS text editor, or a new pair of lightweight shoes, I browse through my RSS feeds with a delight in seeing fresh things. And fortunately, the delight of looking is relatively free. This daily routine of mine is akin to the window-shopping of old. I’m fascinated by the portrayal of the new things—the praises of their qualities. The search itself makes me happy.
I’ve found it’s useful to check in every so often on why I do things. Do my habits make me happy? Do I find joy in studying 漢字 every day? Lifting weights? Lightweight packing? Is my search fo the best things also a way to hunt for new hobbies? The answer, for me, to all of those questions is a yes. And frankly I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this search. I do wish that this curiosity could be de-coupled from capitalism, but the world we live in doesn’t seem to wish for the same thing. I think the best we can do is keep on searching if it makes us happy, and share the things we find and the things we own with each other—sharing the joy as well.
We might all search for our own reasons, but curiosity and interest is a one of the best things of all. When we find satisfaction, the key, I think, is recognizing it, and enjoying it. Until then, happy hunting.