Virtually everything we do in life revolves around satisfying our desire for whatever it is that we believe will make us happy right now or in the future. Following our dream is actively encouraged by parents, teachers, employers, governors and sales people, for example. In actual fact the entire socio-economic structure depends upon us all chasing our desires. In this post I challenge the commonly held assumption that desire is a good thing…
In the western world especially, from cradle to grave we’re told constantly that happiness is our right and we can all have whatever we want so long as we’re able and willing to legally do whatever it takes to get it. And virtually everything we do in life revolves around satisfying our desire for whatever it is that we believe will make us happy right now or in the future. Following our dream is actively encouraged by parents, teachers, employers, governors and sales people, for example. In actual fact the entire socio-economic structure depends upon us all chasing our desires. Desire is a good thing, right?
One thing we can say for certain about any desire impulse is that it eventually wanes. This principle applies whether we’re talking about eating chocolate, having sex, communing with our life partner… or whatever.
If our desire for someone or something is frustrated (it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how hard we work at trying to insulate ourselves from disagreeable people or unfavourable circumstances) it’s not pleasurable at all – it gives rise to feelings of discontentment, jealousy, anger… etc. Yet the more times we manage to satisfy our desire for chocolate / orgasm / partner’s attention the pleasurable feelings that we initially experience are transformed over time into feelings of boredom or even distaste. And when that happens, our inclination more often than not is to seek the next pleasurable hit (a more luxurious brand of chocolate / a more adventurous sexual act / a more empathetic partner, perhaps?).
Let me ask you, dear reader, what happened when you last achieved a major life goal? How long did the euphoria last before you started thinking, ‘Now what shall I do?
How often have you imagined yourself to be full of joy sometime in the future when you finally achieve your heart’s desire? Yet did you not experience success as an anticlimax? Was it not true that the real thrills (if any) were obtained during the chase and in the struggle, whereas the pleasure you got from your accomplishment began to evaporate even as your mind was busy planning the next objective?
Okay, so you have some great memories of the past and some inspiring dreams for the future, but is it not also true that while you’re wallowing in these mental phenomena your real life (your experience of the present moment) is passing by you unnoticed?
As human beings we live most of our lives inside our imaginations, and you only have to look at what’s currently wrong in the world to see the net result of billions of people all following their dreams (noble or otherwise). In the affluent west especially, existential reality is too mundane or too painful to contemplate let alone accept, which is why we so often feel compelled to satisfy our fantasy-fueled desires (greed) instead of making our peace with life as it actually is and appreciating what we already have.
Having desires is natural, but being attached to them isn’t. This erroneous assumption that lasting happiness depends upon our being able to satisfy desires is capable of driving rational human beings to behave like junkies in need of another fix. The very fact that bodies and minds are subject to ageing, illness and death should tell us that we inevitably have to say ‘bye bye’ to all that is dear and appealing to us sooner or later. However, I’m not saying ‘resist desire’ because ignoring or repressing desires is unhealthy and not at all pleasant.
My suggestion to anyone who may be feeling dissatisfied is, try living with it awhile instead of immediately reacting to it. Look at the desire objectively and see it for what it actually is (most likely a craving for sensory stimulation, or an urge to be elsewhere/to be other than you already are, or a wish to be rid of something). Not only are you giving yourself time in which to decide whether or not you want to go there again, but chances are the desire will fall away naturally without you having to ignore or repress it.
Experiences come and go – the ‘bad’ ones as well as as the ‘good’ ones. Just be aware of them as they’re happening, recognise them as impermanent and try not to hang on to them or push them away. That way you’re less likely to be discontented in the long run. The alternative is to continue relying on a fragile body, a fickle partner, and ever-changing circumstances to always deliver satisfaction.