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You Only Want the Wanting
An essay on the role of desire in human psychology
Going to start posting 2x per week now. Subscribe because it will motivate me to write better essays.
There I was, standing in front of 1,000 people, roaring applause drowning out the sound of my thoughts, coupled with the literal sound of my heart beating with so much percussion it felt like it was trying to leap out of my chest.
I’d just finished giving my TEDx talk I’d worked on it for months. I went through multiple rounds of revision. My speech coaches ripped my ideas to shreds, forcing me to piece the ideas back together into something useful.
It’s the same feeling an athlete feels after winning a championship. You feel the weight not just the moment itself, but everything you had to do to get to that moment.
I’ve only felt this way a handful of times. I felt it each time I held a proof copy of one of my books in my hands. I felt it when I said goodbye to my full-time job forever to pursue a full-time writing career.
All of these moments I’ve experienced like this have one thing in common.
The feeling disappears, fast.
I’ve always pursued success to fill a void.
I fueled my writing career with a massive chip on my shoulder. I figured that reaching my goals would make me feel better about myself and alleviate my insecurities. But that’s not what happened. There’s still a void. There are still insecurities. And even though I’ve achieved many of my major goals in life, nothing really changed except the arena I was playing in. This week alone, I made an amount of money that equaled my monthly salary just a few years ago. It’s strange to imagine how I even got by back then. Millions of people read my work each year, which is what I used to dream about.
It’s surprising how unremarkable it all feels.
All of my previous benchmarks are now things I just expect to happen. I’m supposed to have a multi-six-figure business. I’m supposed to have hundreds of thousands of readers each month. Euphoric success quickly becomes another part of the everyday shuffle. Is this it? Don’t confuse this as woe is me. I love my life. The freedom does feel good, especially when I take the time to be grateful for it and not take it for granted. When I don’t look at the tab for my meals, I am reminded that I’ve upgraded my life. But it isn’t what I thought I’d be.
Human beings thrived as a species because of our ability to adapt.
But this means we quickly adapt and get used to new heights. Think of the way it feels when you buy a brand-new car. A few weeks later, it’s just a car. Think of winning the love of someone you had a major crush on, only to be annoyed at their presence a few months later. Most people who start to make more money experience lifestyle creep, which is why some people make six or seven figures and still live paycheck to paycheck. The void never gets filled because the way to fill the void is by understanding it never needed to be filled in the first place.
Still, I encourage you to go through this process for yourself.
“Well, I could’ve told you that,” yells the peanut gallery of Eastern philosophers, meditation gurus, and zen practitioners.
There are a few quotes I love about our relationship with desire. There’s the classic “Desire is the root of all suffering.” And one of my favorites from Naval Ravikant says “Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” Don’t chase goals. Instead, experience ego death by renouncing your desires altogether. Philosophies like stoicism have become popular in recent years, with hallmark phrases like Amor Fati which means ‘love your life no matter what. These philosophies whisper the idea that nothing really matters, so you shouldn’t try. Peace comes with an understanding that gratification is fleeting, so better not to pursue it at all.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Sure, there’s something to be said about being grateful, about being content with what you have, and about allowing yourself to be happy or at peace with your life even if you don’t get what you want. But it’s all bullshit. It’s bullshit because these philosophies ignore the way human beings work. How many people have successfully meditated themselves into a state of bliss? How many people are content or grateful? Nine times out of ten, people use Eastern philosophy as a shield to hide from the world. Anyone can learn how to meditate. Anyone can claim contentment. Sitting in your room and breathing isn’t a spiritual journey. It’s a cop-out, apathy disguised as spirituality.
This is where most people sit spiritually. They are at one of the bottom rungs of the levels of consciousness:
Levels of consciousness describe the people of the spiritual state live in and the levels they have the potential to climb. Dr. David Hawkins, who has written many books on the subject, says that most people stay in one paradigm and never rise above it. Most people stay at the bottom rungs, things like shame, guilt, and apathy. I poke and prod so much because I want to agitate people into higher levels like anger, pride, and desire. At least these levels have some oomph to them. You can do something with that energy.
Most people feign contentment and gratitude to mask the fact that they just don’t believe in themselves enough to go on a real spiritual journey.
“The businessman is far more spiritual than the sedated hippie Utilizing mind, body, and spirit for the service of others The sedated hippie, in his selfishness & lethargy is only concerned with feeling good, while the businessman is concerned with doing good. Nothing will teach you more about your spirit than playing the worldly games of this life.” — Yousef XPB
Putting your heart, soul, and bank account into a business idea, only to watch it burn to the ground, and then doing it all over again, will teach you more about life than sitting in a room ever will. Putting yourself in the crosshairs of rejection, facing your fears, and experiencing major embarrassments only to find that they don’t kill you, will give you more spirit than ‘contentment’ can provide.
If you were honest with yourself, you’d admit the things you want from life and go for them.
If you removed the element of fear, all of a sudden people’s goals would change. Remove the possibility of failure, and damn near everyone would try to start that business, walk over to that stunningly attractive person and say hi, or throw themselves into that project with a low probability of success but also a crazy high upside. You’re not at peace. You’re afraid. If you weren’t afraid you’d play the game of life and you’d play to win.
Borrowing from Naval again:
Win the game, so you no longer play it.
One of the few paths to getting close to contentment is scratching the itch, figuring out it wasn’t what you thought it would be, but no longer having to wonder what it would be like. It sounds cliche and patronizing when rich people tell you money doesn’t matter or famous people tell you it’s not all that great because you want to find out for yourself.
Play the worldly games, not because they’ll fill the void, but because playing them will prove to yourself that you’re not a coward.
Health: The Foundation of Self-Perception
Exercise and nutrition are great for your health, but is it the primary reason people pursue them?
Do fitness programs say things like ‘Work out to increase bone density, cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of preventable disease”? Or do they say things like “Get a six-pack in six weeks” “fit into your wedding dress” and “washboard abs”? Sure, there’s a cultural component to beauty standards, but most of us possess the desire to be beautiful. I’ve been overweight and I’ve been jacked with six-pack abs. Jacked with six-pack abs feels better.
Also, when it comes to scratching the itch, getting your health in order is more about the absence of negativity than it is feeling great.
When you’re in better shape, you notice your body less. You remove moments from your life like getting winded when you walk up the stairs. You’re less aware of your presence as you move through space. Try this exercise. Go stand in the mirror naked. Stare at yourself from head to toe. Ask yourself, does your opinion of your body come from Cosmo or Men’s Health, or do you innately feel that desire to improve your physique?
Maybe you’re an anomaly, but consumer data from the billion-dollar fitness industry would argue otherwise.
Wealth: You Don’t Hate Capitalism, You Just Don’t Like Being Broke
One lie that makes my eyes roll all the way into the back of my head:
I don’t care about money.
Then why do most people spend their entire lives working for it, scratching and clawing for every penny? If you were, as the kids say, really about that life, you’d live in a tent out in the wilderness or a studio apartment with minimal possessions. But you don’t. You’re a slave to money. It dominates your thinking.
Why not just go make a bunch of it?
You make more money by taking money less seriously. You turn to make money into a fun game and the money comes as a byproduct of providing usefulness to the world. Money doesn’t solve your problems, but it does solve your money problems.
Making more alleviates stress, gets you out of the rat race, and gives you your time back.
Love: The Thing We All Crave
It’s apt that men who try way too hard to get a date are called ‘thirsty’
Picture your everyday life. If you’re thirsty, you just get something to drink, no biggie. You can walk down the water aisle of a grocery store and you’re indifferent. Now picture yourself stuck in the middle of a desert with nothing to drink. Water is the only thing you think about.
A lot of people, mostly men, are living like waterless people in the desert.
There’s nothing special about learning to attract people, but if you can’t do it, it’s all you think about. The lack of being able to attract a mate can manifest itself in all sorts of negative ways. Look at the rise of incel culture.
Sure, a lot of the problems they face are self-inflicted, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand where they’re coming from or write them off as bitter losers. Of course, the responsibility lies on them, not women. And their feelings don’t excuse their behavior. They misbehave, sometimes badly, but is rubbing salt in their wounds really the best method? They’re in pain.
There are few worse feelings in the world than loneliness.
Pick-up artistry gets a ton of flack, but in the essence of it is vital for society. Since the responsibility of attracting a mate tends to fall on men, it is important that they learn the skill of attraction. And, as I’ve written about before, there’s a way to do it without being creepy, misogynistic, or manipulative.
Learning the skill of attraction eliminates neediness. Neediness is a poison inflicting the world, and both men and women don’t like it. When you’re needy, you settle for whatever partner you can get instead of the best fit for a relationship. It’s not about ‘being a player.’ It’s about having the confidence to know that if you lose a mate, you can find another one.
This helps you set boundaries, which makes for better relationships for everyone involved.
Happiness: The Holy Grail
Here, I’ll define happiness as self-actualization — the tiny tip in the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Looking at that pyramid, you’ll find the natural progression of winning the game so you no longer have to play the game. You meet one need or want and then move to the next one, going from basic needs to higher desires. People have the innate desire to improve and turn their visions into reality. Without it, we wouldn’t have the civilization we built. You don’t need to find some perfect passion or achieve the ultimate purpose to be happy. There is a predatory ‘nothing is ever good enough’ nature to the self-help industry and there is something to be said about being happy with what you have.
But self-actualization is the biggest itch you must scratch.
The lack of it manifests itself in negative ways, too. I can diagnose many of the problems with society due to a lack of purpose. “An idle mind is the Devil’s playground.” So many people in society are just going through the motions with idle minds, not pursuing the things they really want to pursue. This turns into destructive habits and chasing the wrong highs. All out of trying to avoid facing your fears.
I love this quote from the War of Art about how difficult it is to defeat resistance and achieve your purpose:
“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”
You don’t have to build a million-dollar business to achieve a purpose. Just find something worth working on, preferably something that matches your natural talents and strengths. Then, work on it until you get it to work.
The Never Ending Chase For Fulfillment is The Fulfillment
“One of the great insights of psychoanalysis is that you never really want an object, you only want the wanting, which means the solution is to set your sights on an impossible ideal and work hard to reach it. You won’t. That’s not just okay, that’s the point. It’s ok if you fantasize about knowing kung fu if you then try to actually learn kung fu, eventually you will understand you can never really know kung fu, and then you will die. And it will have been worth it.” — The Last Psychiatrist.
The central thesis of all of TLP’s work is that behavior change is a better vehicle for navigating life than introspection or trying to think your way into happiness. No, go out into the world, set high aims, and try to achieve them.
Figure out who you want to become and become that person.
Write your story to an end and go for it with everything you got.
You can flip the concept of nihilism on its head. If nothing really matters, then why not try to do everything?
Better than sitting on your couch watching Tik-Toks all day.
You’ll never be truly happy, content, or self-actualized, but it doesn’t matter.
You only want the wanting.
Each week, I will send two essays that will make you think, inspire you, and better help you navigate this thing called life. Join the movement because you are a smart person, obviously.