A moment off of the treadmill

Jordan Hedberg
3 min readNov 26, 2020


Over the years I have learned to appreciate Thanksgiving over all the other holidays, and no it's not because of the food, because it asks a fundamental question we humans often forget to ask ourselves; what are we thankful for?

Philosophers since the dawn of history have consistently noted the dissatisfaction that permeates mankind and tried to hint at the source of this deep-seeded need for more. Why do we always want more?

One of my favorite parables is known as the paradox of progress. There are many versions of the story, but all follow the same line of thought. (This version is paraphrased from the great, and sadly late, David Graber in his magnificent book: Debt: The First 5000 Years)

A missionary was walking down the beach of an island paradise and he came across one of the native islanders sitting on the beach gazing upon the ocean. The missionary asked the native why he was just laying around on the beach doing nothing. The islander looked at the missionary and asked what he should be doing instead of sitting on the beach?

“Well,” said the missionary with an air of knowing experience, “there are a bunch of coconuts in the trees here, you could gather them up and sell them.”

“OK,” said the native, “and then what?”

“With the money, you can hire others and have them gather even more coconuts to sell.”

“OK,” said the native, “and then what?” “You can buy and plant more coconut trees and start an entire coconut plantation, with a processing plant to sell even more coconut products!”

“OK,” said the native, “and then what?”

“Well, then you would be a very wealthy man, and with that wealth, you could just lay around on a beach all day.”

We always want more, and we delude ourselves into thinking that once we get that little bit more, then we will be satisfied. But we are never satisfied for long, and we again feel the strong desire for more. But to what end?

There is no answer to the paradox of progress, but I would wager that our society has skewed heavily towards the belief that more of everything is the only path to fulfillment, and it is painful to us all still to still feel unfulfilled. I often find myself falling into the same trap of progress.

The concept of giving thanks allows us to get off of the treadmill of life for a moment if we so choose. The odds of any one of us even being alive on this earth is a probability of such small likelihood as to be a speck of dust next to the sun.

This Thanksgiving, I am going to take a moment to sit by a creek here in the mountains and take a step off the treadmill, even it is just a moment of thankfulness. Perhaps in that moment, I might find another moment off the treadmill of desire and progress, and perhaps another moment, followed by another, and another…

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

— Jordan Hedberg

(Published in the Wet Mountain Tribune on November 26, 2020)


I in no way suggest that it is possible to get off the human treadmill for more than a moment. At some point, we need to accept and learn to channel our constant need to escape from our ultimate doom. Striving for more is how we humans cope with what we know to be our death. And from each one of our own selfish needs for more, we make more for those of us that follow.

I rarely hear anyone suggest that our inability to be personally satisfied is precisely why our species succeeds to the extent it does. Perhaps our own inability to secure happiness is why our offspring will thrive.

Just a thought.