John Steinbeck wrote The Winter of Our Discontent to address what he saw as the moral degeneration of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. It is considered to be a classic novel which helped establish the author's reputation as an "independent expounder of the truth".
The time frame in which Steinbeck wrote his novel coincides with the "Golden Age of Capitalism", a time when marketers where learning how to get people to consume more than enough. We went all in and tossed the baby with the bathwater.
Industrialized nations decided to trade traditional ideas of what is good and right for the promise of more. But sacrifices needed to be made, a malaise descended upon us, and our current condition set in.
Of our predicament, Steinbeck observed:
“When a condition or a problem becomes too great, humans have the protection of not thinking about it. But it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and uneasiness, guilt and a compulsion to get something--anything--before it is all gone.”
There is a restless desire, a craving for things we don't have that has not only persisted, but intensified in the intervening years since 1961 when the novel was first published. We have fallen for the fallacy that if some is good more is better, and everyone is trying to get what they think they deserve before the whole outhouse goes up in flames.
In the meantime we try not to think about grabbing the last oil, or the last of our primal forests, or the last of the whales. I figure people focus on future purchases and experiences about 70% of the time, cherish memories of past purchases and experiences 20% of the time, harbour regrets 5% of the time, leaving a grim 5% of their time for enjoying the here and now, the only real time we have got.
The winter of our discontent has become the era of our discontent. We live in a system that promotes excessiveness and pretends there are no limits at all. In a careful balancing act, we are being challenged to fulfill our needs without being overly abundant. How much is that?