Seneca speaks of Corinthian bronze in On the Shortness of Life. Suppose I acquire a large statue made of the prized material––in the form of a swan, let us say. I place it in my room, where I can regularly turn to it with an admiring gaze. For the first few days it will be the marvel of my home, the possession I cherish above all others. But as the weeks and months go by it will more and more lose its initial splendor. What was once a marvel will become just a chunk of metal among other undistinguished objects. I will pay it less attention, perhaps none at all. Even if I give it the occasional dusting, what is in plain sight will, paradoxically, fade into obscurity.
Such is the fate that awaits all freshly acquired material possessions. The thrill of a new TV, car, pair of shoes, home, set of cutlery, or piece of Corinthian bronze will sooner or later give way to ordinariness or even monotony. It seems that so long as the object in question has what I've labeled an "aura of novelty," it can stir up excitement. But the aura begins to decay the moment the object becomes ours––as soon as we pluck it from the store shelf, for example, or drive it out of the dealership––and little can be done to slow or reverse the process. The rate of decay will decrease in proportion to the cost and size of the object, among other attributes, but in my experience the aura never survives more than a month or so, even for objects that mesmerize us at first. And once the aura for one object is gone, we experience a sense of loss and are tempted to acquire other objects to fill in the void. It's a fruitless, self-defeating temptation, of course, but one we often cheerily give into.
The neuroscientist, psychologist, sociologist, economist, theologian, and philosopher will each approach the existence and decay of the aura of novelty from different directions. Western monotheism and Buddhism, for their part, may not be able to tell us what exactly the aura is, but they do seem particularly well-qualified to instruct us on how it can be dealt with. Representing the former, Thomistic philosopher Etienne Gilson writes:
The owner of a great estate would still add field to field, the rich man would heap up more riches, the husband of a fair wife would have another still fairer . . . The experience is too common to be worth the trouble of many words; but it is of some importance to recall it here because the great fact on which rests the whole Christian conception of love is this: that all human pleasure is desirable but none ever suffices . . . The very insatiability of human desire has a positive significance; it means this: that we are attracted by an infinite good. (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, tr. A. H. C. Downes, Charles Scribner's Sons 1940, pp. 271–272)
Neither a "fair wife" nor a fair husband is, of course, a material possession, but Gilson is discussing desire and acquisition in general, not material acquisitions in particular. And for Gilson and other Western monotheists, desire ought to ultimately be oriented to God, the "infinite good" who alone is capable of fully satisfying us. If desire is aimed exclusively elsewhere, trouble ensues.
The Buddhist would agree that desire cannot be fully satisfied by the things of this world, but they would part ways with the Christian by maintaining that it is desire itself that is the problem, not misguided desire.
On both accounts, the brevity and imperfection of the aura of novelty can be seen as reflecting the nature of all satisfaction achieved through material acquisitions. The proper response to disappointment or temptation upon seeing the aura fade is, for the Christian, to direct our desires to God rather than material possessions; for the Buddhist, to abolish desire in toto. Both responses are reasonable in their own way, but not free of problems. If human desire is, as it seems, truly infinite––truly without limit––then what if even an infinite being isn't sufficiently great to satisfy it? How might we even compare God's infinity with that of human desire? On the flip side, how can we abolish that which is without limit? And even if the sage can do this, what hope is there for sorry specimens like me?