What We Really Want

To a significant extent, many of us do not know what we really want. Sometimes we think we know – maybe a girlfriend, lots of money, or something as simple as some new shoes – but upon attainment, the pleasures are momentary, and when they fade we are even more disillusioned than before. We then proceed to tell ourselves that it was merely the wrong girl, or insufficient money, in what Carl Jung would call lying to the heart with the head. There is, quite often and at the very least, a gulf between what we think we want and what we actually want.

You might say you want a partner. You find one and in the beginning, things are great. Your want has been fulfilled. But then, certain feelings begin creeping up on you. The initial feelings of lust and wonder begin to fade, and you start thinking to yourself that this person isn’t right for you. But perhaps what is really going on is that what you really wanted (even if you cannot realise this yourself) was to love yourself, and you simply used another person as a substitute. Of course your feelings would fade and an inner suspicion of unfulfillment would arise because, you thought you wanted one thing, but you really wanted another.

Maybe you tell yourself you want a nice car. You’ve been looking at a few for a long time. $20,000. It is a steep price to pay, but you tell yourself it is worth it. After buying it, you drive it everywhere, keen to show it off to those you know. But after a while, the joy begins to fade. Why is this? Perhaps because it was never about the car in the first place. Perhaps you grew up feeling poor, never lived in a luxurious home, and your parents sometimes struggled making ends meet. What you wanted wasn’t a car, but to escape the feeling of inner poverty that besieges you every time you seen a Mercedes drive past or a commercial for the new BMW; which is to say, often.

The proliferation of all types of goods and services that consumer capitalism affords us might be worse at satisfying our wants than confusing them. With the clever use of advertising, we associate being trendy with buying the latest clothes, or being refined by purchasing nice watches, or transcending our feeling of poverty by taking out a loan for a fancy car. We trick ourselves into believing these commodities will grant a magical power to remedy us of our deep-seated feelings of angst, inferiority, or disappointment, only to soon find that they don’t…and never can. They are, as Zygmunt Bauman points out in Consuming Life ‘incommensurate’, your feelings of inferiority or angst, while momentarily mitigated by a new purchase, will never be fully satisfied because what you really want will never be found in a new watch or a fancy car.

This is precisely the problem that befalls celebrities, especially music artists who will sing about how they now have money and fame but still feel empty inside. They, like us, mistook one thing for another. They thought that the money and fame would bring them the security, love, and warmth that they needed, but really all it ended up giving them was fake-friends, empty houses, and the incessant demand to be someone they’re not.

Itzhak Richter, Simplicity, 2011

Of course, perhaps like the man in the painting by Itzhak Richter, you do just want a glass of wine (or a car or a watch). But the real issue is mistaking psychological wants for material ones. Only by listening to ourselves and paying attention to the deeper parts of our psyche will we come across the fundamental realisation that there are very few things we actually want: we want love, compassion, reassurance; to feel secure, to feel wanted, and to feel that we are worthy. Seeking these qualities in objects will only disillusion us further.

To come into contact with what is most important, we need to be able, perhaps for the first time, to listen to ourselves. Only then will we be able to journey into new lands and discover ways to give ourselves what we really want.

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