The first time a middle school friend burned me a mixed CD my whole world got a little bigger. Suddenly, music was endlessly accessible. I spent weekends foraging and sorting through my parents’ CD collection and making my own discoveries and online purchases. Sometime in high school, my library had reached around 10,000 songs. And I was so proud even if not all the music was that great.
Now my music library stands at exactly 2,463. And I know it could be even smaller.
Most Americans seem to recognize that greed is a problem. But we usually only talk about greed as it manifests itself over cars and houses and boats and clothes. Greed can be so much more subtle. I’m very thankful for my years of obsessive music searching, purchasing, and sorting because I found a lot of beautiful music. But I didn’t just find beautiful music; I didn’t just want to find beautiful music. I wanted new music. I was greedy for novelty. And as it goes, greed is never satisfied.
I’ve realized this most fully in the last year as I’ve watched my toddler begin to deeply appreciate music. He has a playlist of a varied collection of songs and wants to listen to that same playlist over and over again. In fact, he can listen to the same single song over and over again. At first, I let this drive me a little crazy. But lately it doesn’t bother me so much. There was a time when Coldplay’s Yellow was old news and boring. But now when it’s on repeat, lulling my son (whose favorite color is yellow,) to sleep, I find myself singing along, over and over again, surprisingly not annoyed at all.
Before I ever got that first mixed CD I had my own little collection of CD’s— maybe twenty. My mom and I would keep a few in the car and cycle through them throughout the year. It wasn’t weird that we might listen to the same one, straight, for a month. There was actually something so freeing and simple about that. I enjoyed the music without an anxiety about that enjoyment fading or a constant need to move on to something else.
Now, quaint as that sounds, I don’t think I need to go back to a twenty-CD collection. I don’t think we should go out of our way to narrow our horizens when our horizens can be so broad. Novelty is not a bad thing in and of itself. Novelty can challenge us and inspire us to grow. Bound by time and space, humans only have so much ability to see and appreciate the world around them. Novelty invites us to open our eyes wider and to gaze deeper into what is already there. We ought to be open to novelty— but only insofar as it is a tool to help us appreciate beauty. Seeking novelty for novelty’s sake is much like mindless shopping for shopping’s sake. You’ll probably leave with a bunch of things you don’t really like or need, along with an insatiable desire for more.
We often embark on this quest for novelty because we feel bored. And what is boredom, really, but an inability to appreciate what’s already around you? These days, it is so easy to have spoiled senses— ears that can no longer hear the subtleties and hearts that can’t appreciate what has already been appreciated. The endless quest for novelty can ruin our ability to love what we have. That tragedy is more obvious in the miserable celebrity with the ten mansions. But what about music? What about TV shows, movies? What about all our media? What about news stories? Pinterest pins? Profile pictures? Experiences? Friends? Sex? Just look at the cover of a Cosmo magazine! New tips, new tricks, things he’s never seen before! What pressure that puts on a relationship! The truth is, when you love somebody or something openly and vulnerably, the tool of novelty weaves its way in anyway. The beautiful can always surprise us and inspire us and change us. We never see the fullness of beauty and therefore we can always appreciate it more deeply.
So if you ever feel dumb because you don’t have enough time anymore to stay caught up on the latest hits (or, better yet, caught up on the soon-to-be latest hits)— if sometimes you feel out of the loop— if sometimes you look at your music library, or any aspect of your life, and you think, don’t I need a little more? Don’t I need an update? Ask yourself another question: Is it beautiful? If it’s beautiful, then sit back and enjoy it. And don’t be ashamed if you listen on repeat.