If you live in the western world, you know very much about desire. It’s built into just about every system we have including our economic system of capitalism. Capitalism is the easiest one to call out because it’s based on a system that tries to get the best out of scarce resources. It capitalizes on our human nature for desire by telling us that we need more. We all yearn for something. The issue is that it’s also human nature to never be satisfied. Once we accomplish what we set out, another desire comes lurking. We don’t think anything of it. Our desires are what gives us the motivation to do the things we set out to do. How could that be a bad thing? When you think about it, we were all born out of desire.
If you ask any of the ancient religions, desire is the source of our suffering. More specifically, one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism states that lust (desire in the form of craving) is the source of suffering. Desire is also built into four of the seven deadly sins when we add gluttony, envy, and greed to lust. I know what you’re thinking. Lust is typically used with a sexual connotation, but Merriam-Webster would define lust as a strong craving, sexual or not.
These religions come with wise advice whether you are religious or not. Most of our issues come from desires, whether they are met or unmet. Depression is typically linked to our past and disappointment that our lives haven’t had our desired outcome. Anxiety is fear that our future won’t have the desired outcome. We get angry or sad because we didn’t get what we desired, whether that be the perfect relationship, that promotion we thought we were going to get, or the passing of someone we thought we’d see live forever. We get sad in our old age because we desire to be young and rush to grow up because we desire to be older. Our desires and expectations hinder us from being in the present moment.
Fame and Fortune
What are the two main desires that we have in the world? I can answer that for you. It’s fame and fortune. People believe these two things are the ticket to a thriving life, but it’s not the case. People who are willing to attain and build their wealth have to do it as a sacrifice. They stay in the office, missing their children’s dance recital. You also can’t “win” in the game of life without having someone lose. Every accumulation of wealth and earthly possessions means that there is a disparity for someone who isn’t well off. When we have too much desire, we call it greed. If money is a finite resource as capitalism claims, those who strive to be the wealthiest people in the world are diminishing the potential of others just trying to get out of debt.
Fame isn’t all that great either. There isn’t a lot of peace when everyone knows who you are. There’s a video of Kanye West opening up his garage door to the snapping of paparazzi cameras in the middle of the night/early morning. In an interview, Lebron James talked about how he wishes he could do normal things like go to the grocery store. When you’re famous, your privacy goes out the window and everything you do is tied to your public persona. Many famous people still have the same problems as regular folk, with other issues that I wouldn’t begin to fathom. Being famous doesn’t completely remove us from the struggle.
Thinking We’re Making Logical Decisions
We don’t really know that we have desires until we’re aware of them. Most of them are unconscious. When we get hungry, we don’t necessarily know what we crave, we just know that we want something. It’s not until our stomach growls, or when we are aware that we are hungry that we know that we desire food. In most cases, our desires don’t come from us but from projections of others and our desires to live up to those expectations. My marketing mind just flickered. I worked in an industry that was very tech-focused. They built their marketing on the feature set. It was purely on the rational mind. Good marketers make you feel like you need something before you have the awareness that you need it and then use “rationale” as the reason to buy when it was an unconscious desire for something deeper that made you want it. As a marketer, I very much knew how to manipulate the mind to want something that you didn’t need until you convinced yourself you needed it. Once the desire becomes conscious, it’s hard to say no.
There’s an easy example of how our desires don’t actually come from us. This comes in the form of a New Year’s resolution. What are the typical resolutions? It’s to start that new business, or to lose weight, right? Do we ask why we have these types of resolutions? Our rationale says that we want to lose weight to be healthy, but it’s possible to be healthy without buying that new gym membership. Why is starting that new business important? Is it because our culture puts a premium on entrepreneurs? Is the status of becoming a business owner more important than the business itself? To take things a step further, if we are looking to lose weight and are using the beginning of the year as a starting point, does that mean we have no control over the desire to eat bad food or stay inside when we should be taking a walk? Why can’t the resolution start on April 23rd?
There’s a saying that you might have seen all over the Internet that goes, “I’m glad I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.” The truth is, most of the time, we don’t know what we want. We just have the desire for it. When we receive it we have buyer’s remorse. Just about everyone wants to find love, but 50% of marriages end in divorce. I wanted a director’s position with all the experience that I thought I had. Once I received it, it wasn’t that great of an experience. It’s kind of weird how we want something, doesn’t want it anymore, but then want something new that will result in the same displeasure.
Another paradox I can’t shake is that our desires are pursued in order to minimize or avoid suffering, but the wrong type of desires can have the opposite effect. Going back to the food example, we eat to minimize the discomfort that comes with being hungry. Too much food or the wrong type of food can put you in a worse predicament in the restroom. Eat the wrong thing for an extended period of time, you might be looking to make a resolution this new year. I don’t know if the simple act of eating food is a negative thing, but there have to be reasons why just about all the major belief systems have fasting, or the act of reframing from food, as a practice. Ramadhan is a premier event in the Muslim community in which people don’t eat any food from sun up to sun down. It teaches us to not give in to the desires of our body and be comfortable with discomfort. It also teaches that “men don’t live on bread alone.”
Removing Our Desires
In order for us to live a more fulfilling life, we have to not give in to our desires, but remove them altogether. Even if that means slowly. I read that our expectations are idols, and I couldn’t see them in any other way. We worship our desires and our expectations as if they are true, but if they don’t come to pass, how can they? If they are not true, why do we get angry when people don’t meet our desires? We only expect things we see in our minds. None of it is real.