Does coveting something mean you will be happy once you get it?

Does coveting something mean you will be happy once you get it?

That one thing.

What is it? That one thing you wish they would do. The one thing you know would make you perfectly happy. Just that one thing you dare not ask, but deeply desire. What is it? And what’s stopping you from asking?

“I wish she’d let me have another child.” “I wish he’d let me experiment.” “I wish she’d tell me the truth about that tour of Paris.” “I wish he wouldn’t touch me like that.” “I wish we could try it like this.”

We are creatures of want. We are envious and jealous as well. What’s interesting is the gap between craving something and the level of satisfaction we may attain if and when we achieve it. Will we actually like what we want when we get it?

Psychologists have studied the relationship between wanting and liking. Actually the two are governed by different parts of the body. According to this Stamford study, our opioid systems and primary sensory and valuation regions are the parts of us that mediate ‘liking’, while ‘wanting’ is “encoded by midbrain dopamine activity in efferent regions such as nucleus accumbens’.

Interestingly (and somewhat tangentially relative to this discussion) the researchers also discovered that liking and wanting don’t always manifest harmoniously. Though there is a relationship between the two emotions, it is not necessarily sympathetic. To wit you may like something less the more you want it, therefore happiness doesn’t necessarily result from getting what you want.

But why do we want things in the first place?

LiveScience looked at the mystery of desire a while back. The authors of this article canvassed the opinions of various experts across a range of disciplines and found, unsurprisingly, a range of theories. The evolutionary psychologist named biology the root factor in want determination and the social scientist concurred, but added experience also plays a decisive role along with timing and context. Nature and nurture in other words.

So perhaps when it comes to understanding what we want, the best place to start is within. Do you want that one thing because you can’t have it, because someone else has it, or because you’ve been told you want it enough that not having it seems impossible?

It’s particularly important to ask yourself these questions when it comes to wanting things from other people. And the closer that person is to you, the greater the imperative to understand. I say this from personal experience and as someone who has grown far too accustomed to emails featuring frustrations in the vein of: “all I want is more [blank] and I don’t understand why/why they won’t give it to me.”

Understanding the sources of your motivations matters – the process refines your search and makes a positive outcome more likely. Too many people slave for desires not really their own, or expect satisfaction from others for that which they don’t actually want. Too many people suffer as a result.

Of course, once you’re sure of what it is you’re seeking, it’s incumbent on you to answer the search. If you’re sure of what you want, and why you want it, why shouldn’t you go and get it? Why should you sit in cowardly silence? Why not simply do what needs to be done?

Why not indeed.

So. What is it that you want, why do you want it, and what’s holding you back? Or, conversely, what did you want, why did you want it, and what happened when you went for it?

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au