The Illusion of Desire: How To Cure Our Frantic Wants and Needs

The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it but in what one pays for it – what it costs us.”

                                                                                            – Friedrich Nietzsche

Most often in life, we find ourselves in a constant state of insatiable desire. Regardless of the object of desire, the emotion it elicits is always the same – dissatisfaction.

Whether we succeeded or failed in our attempt at possession, we find ourselves discontent with our circumstances. Nothing seems to make us happy.

If we succeeded, we become arrogant and take the desired object for granted. Or we become so anxious about losing them that what we desired so much suddenly becomes a mental torture.

If we failed, we become insecure and timid. We lose our passion and become too sensitive to outside criticism.


The Paradox of Desire: What is it?


We are trapped by the illusion of the desire and however you slice the bread, you are doomed to discontentment and dissatisfaction.

Let’s call this illusion “The Paradox of Desire” – the emotion of desire most often elicits dissatisfaction and discontentment.

Desire is a natural and instinctive emotion. It is found in all humans to some degree (some more than others) and in no way is something to be avoided.

The question is never “How to eliminate it?” but “How to channel it?” Or as Nassim Taleb put it -“the domestication of the emotion”.


Desire and Happiness


When you observe most people in our society, you see that they have the notion that happiness will come through material possessions.

Does material possessions add nothing to our state of well being?  

Well…not necessarily. Many scientific and psychological studies have shown (etc. Maslow’s Hierarchies of Needs, Spiral Dynamics) that our bare needs have to be met before happiness can be maximized.

There is a certain progression to the human psyche. If you try to skip certain stages (financial independence, self-reliance, individuality, autonomy, relationships etc.), you’ll see that things won’t quite click.

The bigger problem that needs to be addressed is how almost everyone thinks if they only possessed a beautiful girlfriend/boyfriend or an expensive car, they’d be happy. 

Especially people who are not absorbed in self-development work generally assume they’ll be finally happy after acquiring these possessions while people who properly study self-help and Stoicism work will eventually see how much of an illusion this is.  

First of all, happiness is created through our internal dispositions, not external gains. Even in the bleakest of times, you can find something to be grateful for.

The key is to properly channel and direct our instinctive but excessive emotions (like desire in this case)

When you see a beautiful person, find that self-restraint.

When you hear unpleasant language, find patience.

When in sickness and pain, find fortitude.

                                                                                              – Epictetus

If you are angry or frustrated, use it as a fuel. Don’t let the emotion control you. As the late great Stoic Epictetus mentioned, practice virtue instead.

Lost all important data in PC? Practice the skill of detachment. You can do an even better work next time.

Actually, something like this happened to me two days ago. I was shooting a video and already spent 49 minutes talking and explaining all these concepts but realized that the camera wasn’t even recording.

At that moment, I wanted to punch everything around me out of frustration. I was so angry but to my surprise, the second take was miles better than the original take.

The failed take was a great warm-up and practice session for me. When I started the second take, my thoughts and ideas were already aligned and overall much better communicated.  

In fact, the video was so good that I considered making these failed original attempts a constant practice.

Fight emotion with reason. It is the only proven way to free yourself from the tyranny of excess emotions.

Your Greatest Weapon Against Uncertainty: Logic


Especially make logic your compass in the fogginess of uncertainty – precisely the time you need strength.

Imagine ocean as emotions and the vessel your mind. When any kind of wave hits your vessel, just look at your compass of logic, then you’ll have nothing to worry about.

The vessel can safely be directed to the harbor. The foggy and misty weather can be illuminated as long as your trusted compass is within reach.

When you arrive at the port, your vessel can be in bad shape. Most people complain and moan at best but instead wear it as a badge of honor.

When you sacrifice short-term gains (drinking beer)  for a strategic long-term one (starting a meditation practice), the tendency might be to complain and whine.

This is precisely the wrong approach.

Think of yourself as a general who successfully beat the odds and governed his army to the mountain of victory.

Ask yourself: Is it so bad you have suffered casualties?

Do not be naive. If you want victory in the battlefield, sometimes the price is the death of your soldiers.

Do not weep but instead pay the price with dignity. If you are unable to pay the price, then do not get shocked when you accomplish nothing of significance in life.

Understand: Everything you want in life has a price tag connected to it.

Certain sacrifices are to be made. You can not have something for nothing.


Know What Price You’ll Pay: Most Things Are Within Reach


Remember: You can have anything you want, as long as you are willing to pay the price.

Most people tend to scratch off certain ideas about what they can and can’t do without properly analyzing the options.

The question is not whether you can become a self actualized and happy human being, the question is: will you do what it takes to practice?

It is too easy to distract ourselves with various entertainment options at our disposal. But do these really help us progress in the long run?

Think about that the next time you watch your favorite TV show for the fourth time.

Also, do you really understand the payoff? The amount of actual work that is required to create an extraordinary life for yourself.  

For example: The idea of becoming an actor can initially be exciting and exhilarating, yet it is harder to like the lack of privacy and restricted freedom of an actor combined with his constant anxiety of losing attention to the “next big thing”, suddenly the offer seems less and less seductive.

The value of a thing is not in what is initially seen – what is obvious to the eye, but is in what happens behind the curtains – what is unseen.

In one of the episodes, Sherlock Holmes observed that the lack of barking, indicated that the murderer could only be someone the dog knew. He forced himself to see the unseen, or in this case “hear the unheard”.

Be wary: Time will fly away

One of the most profound implications of this concept is that

Time for something means time away from another. 

When you passionately desire something, be wary of the time you lose both in pursuit and after-effects.

Think of it as relationships : Having a partner on your side is great as they might be good company in boredom and sickness or a shoulder to cry on in times of hardship yet you fail to see the amount of effort it takes to maintain such relationship and loss of valuable time both in pursuit and cultivation of the relationship.

Realize: If something doesn’t worth the effort and time; simply quit. Whether that is a person, a business project or opposite thought patterns. And do so without an ounce of hesitation. (Sunk-Cost Fallacy in Psychology)

Remember the Coin: What Am I Not Seeing Right Now?


The two sides of the same coin can be viewed as “seen” and “unseen”. When we look at circumstances in life, we’ll tend to see only our side – rejecting to look at the other side. (Confirmation Bias in psychology)

Study the coin well. In any circumstance, unless you carefully observe both sides of the coin, you’ll most certainly have doubts and regrets.

When you grasp that the human mind has such tendency to completely disregard the unseen and unfairly favor the seen, you’ll start to see with a powerful third eye. Even if the third eye disappears in times of turmoil and chaos, hastily remind yourself these words;

Everything you want in life has a price connected to it. There is a price to pay if you want to make things better, a price to pay just for leaving things as they are, a price for everything

Harry Browne, Author of Fail-Safe Investing

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