What is the Maui Syndrome, and how does it cause us to get bored with our relationships, jobs, cars, etc. Let me use a personal story to explain how the Maui Syndrome works:
I arrived on the Island of Maui. I was attending a conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was my first trip to Hawaii and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t think that I had ever seen a more beautiful place. Everywhere I looked was a visual banquet. The swans on the lake, the pools and waterfalls, the white sandy beaches—it was so wonderful. As I stood on the beach with the palm trees swaying behind me, the sun setting, the ocean rolling toward me, I felt the gentle touch of the wind on my cheek. I couldn’t hold back the tears of appreciation. I was completely overwhelmed by the powerful sensory pleasure of it. I didn’t understand how anyone could live on the island without weeping everyday.
After seven days though, I began to understand. I stood on the same beach with the same trees swaying, the same magnificent ocean rolling toward me, the same breathtaking sunset, but somehow this experience was different. There were no tears.
Where were the tears?
That is when I realized how quickly we, as human beings, adapt to our immediate surroundings. I was talking to one of the locals about my experience and he laughed and pointed to the wall of T-shirts. “Read that one?” he asked. I turned to read the writing on the T-shirt; the gist of what it said was this:
“It’s just another ho-hum day in paradise.”
Human beings are incredibly adaptable. We are so adaptable in fact, that we are capable of numbing ourselves, even to the experience of paradise. We do this in many areas of our lives.
Let’s explore another way the Maui Syndrome affects our everyday lives through acclimation. As I stated, human beings acclimate, we adjust. We become familiar. In fact we are driven to become familiar because of the safety it brings to our lives.
But if along the way our familiarity and safety cause us to become numb to paradise and allow entitlement to twist our thoughts into self- focused, ungrateful, self-consumed, bored behaviors to the point that our lives feel horribly boring, or even begin to feel like a prison of disparity and lack; then the extraordinary gift of life, love, our safest relationships and our peace has been wasted on us.
If we forget to celebrate and appreciate the life we are living, the people we are loving, and the opportunities that surround us, we have sold out our lives for a cheap pair of glasses with “I am BORED” etched in over their lenses.
When we begin to focus on what we perceive isn’t there versus taking a clear and grateful look at what is, we lose ourselves and all that we care about in an illusion of boredom and misery that is self-made and can only bring us unhappiness.
Through our boredom and self-made misery, we become blind, blind to the very things that have the potential to bring us our greatest joy.
We are a society of excess and greed. When I was younger, I watched an extremely wealthy man being interviewed on television. He was asked, “How much is enough?” His reply was simple, “Just a little more.”
Entitlement makes us greedy. It allows boredom to take root and numbs us to our present opportunities to reconnect and reengage with those we love. It attempts to keep our focus in the future or in the past. This keeps us stuck, whining, complaining, and feeling very disappointed.
When we attempt to live in the future or the past there are no real possibilities because neither place exists.
As human beings we are ultimately designed to adapt and that ability to quickly adapt can cause us to feel unsatisfied. We begin to recall with great fondness our last minute cruise to the Bahamas, or the $700 we spent on a new phone without having to consult anyone, or when we could stay up all night and sleep in all day.
Once we get our dream job, it no longer is our dream. Once we switch careers, we long for the comfort of the old job. And once you acclimate to the point you get beyond the excitement of the novelty of marriage, the honeymoon stage with all the butterflies and tingles, the fun of buying a home, or the excitement of having your first child, you settle into what began as a comfortable routine, that became so comfortable it became boring. We have thoughts like, “It was so great in the past, look at me now?” “I wish I was back in the past experiencing what was great.” Or “I cannot stand the thought of a future filled with ONLY this!”
If we choose to live in the future dreaming of something different that might bring us a moment of happiness, it is easy for us to forget how to enhance and strengthen the gifts we have already been given. We forget what an extraordinary blessing it is to have all of the good things we have.
But that is not all; when it comes to personal relationships we give the Maui Syndrome a sharp twist. Not only are we capable of becoming desensitized to a relationship that started out wonderfully, we can take the very thing that we loved most about a person when we met them, and turn it into the thing that drives us insane. A person’s greatest strength can, over time, be perceived as their greatest weakness.
When distressed couples come to me, I ask them to reflect on their first encounters with each other. I ask them to remember the things that attracted them. For example, a wife might describe that when she met her husband she loved that he was calm, sweet, and easy to get along with.
She loved that nothing ruffled him, and his calm demeanor made her feel safe and secure. However, those same characteristics only a few years later are seen by her as lazy, uninvolved, boring, and uncaring. What caused the shift in perception?
The husband might describe his early impressions of his wife as wonderfully organized, directed, energetic, and passionate. Now, his brow wrinkled, he characterizes those same tendencies as pushy, bossy, and obsessive. He complains, “She doesn’t know how to take a break, slow down, and smell the roses.”
Characteristics once endearing and admired become annoyances. What started out as an example of a wife’s exuberant spirit gets reframed as laughter that is too loud and embarrassing? What begins as a husband’s desire to be fiscally responsible is reframed as him being stingy and tight fisted. How does this happen to people who start out with the greatest of intentions of loving each other? The answer is the Maui syndrome feeds our entitlement until it destroys what is good in a relationship and transforms what were once compliments into destructive complaints. When something is available all of the time, we can forget to appreciate its value.