The Problem of Desire

July 17, 2014

in Life

“There are two great disappointments in life: Not getting what you want, and getting it.”

The Problem of Desire

As humans, we desire.

We desire stuff.

Some things we desire are absolutely necessary for healthy survival: basic food, water, shelter, friendship (humans are social creatures).

Others aren’t necessary at all: fame, money, cars, big houses, status, sex (unless you want to procreate), dessert, big meals, gadgets, the latest phones, the big job promotion. These are the things that we tend to desire, thinking that we need them.

Sometimes we think we’ll be happy once we have something, but not always. Happiness doesn’t have to be in the equation, although often it is.

What makes desire stronger is when we see other people possessing what we want. We often covet what others have, as long as we deem what other people have as favorable or valuable.

The irony is that once we get what we want, we quickly move on to wanting something else. Once the initial euphoria wears off, we find ourselves back at our normal state. We start desiring other things.

We’re disappointed when we don’t have something, and we’re disappointed when we finally get it, because we find that the object of our desire didn’t actually mean anything. It was hollow.


Interestingly, virtually all of the non-deity based wisdom of recorded human history has stated that our frustration and anxieties stem from our unquenchable desire for things.

Socrates, Plato, Greek Stoicism, Epicurus, Taoism, Buddhism, Marcus Aurelius and his Roman Stoicism, Transcendentalism in the United States. History’s greatest thinkers, often from vastly different cultures and different periods of time, all came to the same conclusion as to the corrupting influence of our uncontrollable desires.

Western religion, of which Christianity I’m most familiar, also doesn’t place emphasis on material items.

All of these traditions teach that it is the the unquenchable nature of desire that is the source of our unhappiness and anxieties.

Desire and Fitness

Simply desiring a better body, even if you attain it, will generally not make you a happier, more contented person. After all, there will always be people with a better body than you, with bigger arms, a better butt, longer legs. It’s hard to be satisfied. No matter how good you end up looking, there is someone else you could want to look like.

I see this all the time. People who are in great shape never think it’s enough. You could look at a fitness model and imagine how great they must feel about themselves. You’d be mistaken. Often, they still think they have too much fat, or their muscles aren’t big enough.

The internet and Instagram make the situation worse because you can always follow the latest body “de jour”. Never mind this complete stranger could be on steroids, HGH, twenty years younger than you, or just have better genetics. This goes for women and men alike. You’d be surprised how many women take illegal substances.

The first step to restore sanity is to stop following people with hot bodies on Instagram and following their workouts. I say this slightly in jest, but there is truth to it.

Don’t Desire!

Buddhism says “be desireless”.

It’s naive to think that you can cut all desire out of your life. Desire is normal. What you can try is to be aware of your desires, of your natural covetous nature.

When you find yourself desiring, step back from your desire and look at it objectively. Realize how this desire causes you negative feelings and anxiety. Will quenching this latest desire bring any lasting good into your life?

Has obtaining the objects of your desire in the past made you more happy beyond some short-term euphoria? Doubtful.

Using exercise and diet to look a certain way tends to be an exercise in futility. We are never satisfied with how we look and there is always someone who looks better.

Instead of desiring to look like someone else whom you follow on Instagram, perhaps you could focus on being the best you. Perhaps you could focus on the process. The process requires commitment, honesty (with yourself and others), sacrifices, self-control (not giving in to impulse) and discipline; all traits that go into building character.

Eat healthy, exercise, and build character. You’ll be rewarded with a better life.

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A bodybuilding legend died recently. Larry Scott

Two quotes from the article jump out at me as they show the reality of training.

1. Aspiring bodybuilders often asked Mr. Scott his secret to success. He shared it in an interview with the martial arts trainer Steve Cotter. “I generally tell them to take lots of vitamin P,” he said. “They say, ‘What is that?’ And I say, ‘Patience.’ ”

Fast forward to 1:30 on Louis CK take on patience (though the whole thing is funny).

Truth: building the body you want takes time and patience. If you don’t have time or patience, you must find time and and develop patience.

2. “Basically I eat a lot of meat, cheese and eggs,” coupled with protein supplements, he said in an interview with Iron Man magazine in 1965.
note: like all bodybuilders, he used steroids. Nonetheless, nutrition, and protein, is paramount.

Truth: Nutrition is everything. You can’t train and neglect nutrition; they go hand in hand.

Find time, develop patience, lift weights 3x a week, and eat right 80% of the time. That’s what it takes to build a better body.

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