Understanding desire can be the key to contentedness

Understanding desire can be the key to contentedness

“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.

Coveting What Thy Neighbor Has

What can make desire stronger is when we see other people possessing what we think we want, or what we think would make us as happy as them–because they seem so happy!

Of course, we only covet what others have as long as we deem what other people have as favorable or valuable. We never seem to covet our neighbors emotional problems and family issues, nor the stress and anxiety that may accompany what they have. Nope, we just want the good stuff.

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 empty.

So the cycle of desire and disappointment continues unabated.


Interestingly, virtually all of the non-deity based wisdom of recorded human history has observed that much of 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, likewise didn’t place emphasis on material items. Jesus likely wasn’t walking around talking about acquiring vast treasure and wealth.

All of these traditions teach that it is the the unquenchable nature of desire that is the source of our unhappiness and anxieties. Clearly, a better understanding of desire is vitally important if you want to be content.

Desire and Fitness

When you work in the training field, you learn a couple things about human nature. A huge lesson is this:

Attaining an attractive body will generally not make you a happier more contented person unless it is accompanied by a change in how you view life. 

Doing anything for purely narcissistic reasons is hardly a recipe for happiness. If your sole goal is to have a hot body, eventually you’ll be disappointed.

The fact is that the human body will ultimately let you down. It’s called aging. In that regard the Bible is correct, the flesh is worthless. So if your self-esteem is closely tied to your body and how you look, you’re treading dangerously.

You’d be wise to realize that, ultimately, it’s what you find inside that will determine your satisfaction with life, not what is showing externally.

Don’t Compare

It’s best not to compare yourself to others. 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 performance enhancing drugs.

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.

Understand Your Desires!

Buddhism says “be desireless”.

It’s naive to think that you can cut all desire out of your life. Desire is normal and is necessary. Desire is what enables humans to reproduce and what drives economic forces.

But what you can try is to be more 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.

PS. If you found this post interesting or helpful, it’s a sure bet someone else will, too. Please “Like” on my Facebook page or re-post. The re-post results in greater viewing. Thanks!

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