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That one thing you want

Date
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

 

129 comments

  • I think I get my knickers in a knot with this issue when I want something from someone, but want it spontaneouly given. So, having to ask for it compromises the whole situation. I know my partner is not a mind reader and all the manuals and advice columns say "communicate!!!!!". The advice givers make it sound so simple. Ask and you shall receive or maybe not....and then it all starts to go pear shaped. Little wonder it maybe sometimes better (do I mean safer) to live in the land of desire. Little bit like the notions that it is often better to travel than arrive.

    Commenter
    saf
    Date and time
    October 05, 2012, 7:35AM
    • Its an unconscious desire by you for them to understand you on a deeper level so they are able to anticipate your desire, thus fulfilling a deep emotional connection. Now they don't either because they don't share that connection or they don't want too satisfy your desire but neither of those reasons is very satisfying. Hence your unhappiness.

      Commenter
      Doc
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 9:53AM
    • I hear you! I get so crabby when I'm struggling with a million bags and BF asks me, 'Do you need some help?' OF COURSE I NEED HELP! Don't ask, do! But alas, he isn't a mind reader.

      Commenter
      Ariel
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 1:06PM
    • Ariel: next time, just say 'yes thanks, and next time don't ask, just go ahead and help'. But try to say it nicely. Sometimes all it takes is the first time :)

      Commenter
      chameleon
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      October 08, 2012, 12:02AM
    • Ariel
      Your scenario outlines your that BF sees you need help and makes the gesture by asking, but alas, you feel the need to shout at him over the bleedin' obvious and that he should action without asking.
      I've been in situations where I reach in to help without asking, only to be shouted at "I'm ALRIGHT!!" but then, when I've held back I've been shouted at for not helping and further, I've been shouted at for offering to help like the situation you raise.
      You're right, men are not mind readers.
      Show a little gratitude if someone offers you help. Don't crap on them......

      Commenter
      I am the Walrus
      Location
      coocoo coojoo
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:02AM
  • Well I do agree that it's important to put a ???????? over things you want so you can actually understand yourself, your motivations and recognise if it's a valid or stupid desire. The biggest roadblock however is that most people do not want to be honest with themselves.

    Also I think most unvocalised wants remain hidden because the person in question knows it's either a frivolous and/or unreasonable want. For example a person might desperately want to exhibit the 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine' or 'I want to see other people but this freedom doesn't extend to you' ultimatum but that's not exactly something you can state without sounding excessively selfish.

    Commenter
    Jill
    Location
    psychedelia
    Date and time
    October 05, 2012, 8:41AM
    • "sounds excessively selfish", to who ? This is not a flippant question.

      Many people analyse things along the lines of, "if I say this, would it sound selfish ? " They self-analyse. But there are also millions of people who never do this ! And the self-analysers often seem to be oblivious to the existence of these people, and can't understand them.

      Then there are the third category, who worry about whether their utterances would "sound selfish" to some imaginary ( or real, but non-present ), third party. Or God.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 9:01AM
    • "Also I think most unvocalised wants remain hidden because the person in question knows it's either a frivolous and/or unreasonable want."

      Or illegal.

      Almost nothing would satisfy me, right now, other than the untimely death of the bank employee criminal who stole from my account.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 9:03AM
    • To whomever it is whose opinion you are concerned with.

      What is considered selfish will vary from culture to culture (or family to family) so what seems like a perfectly reasonable demand from one person might be obscene to another.

      In terms of my personal thinking, I don’t view self-centredness as the bad thing as that is what keeps every individual alive, instead I view it as positive/collective or negative/individual selfishness. The former utilises selfishness to benefit not just themselves but others as well whereas the latter’s behaviour causes detriment to another (in your case, having your money disappear into someone else’s pie hole). Obviously it is not so ~black and white~ but the application is more efficient than misaimed altruism or non-reflexive actions that are concerned only with the self.

      Of course there are tonnes of people who don’t self-analyse. I’m not quite sure why this is the case because it seems natural to do so, but I also don’t quite understand people who aren’t innately curious.

      Commenter
      Jill
      Location
      psychedelia
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 9:39AM
    • @enno- I feel the same about the person that I work with who stole my beautiful samsung galaxy from my handbag. Massive inconvenience and now I have to save up another $700 for a new one. My hard work down the drain because someone is a thieving sh*t.

      Commenter
      kitten
      Date and time
      October 05, 2012, 11:18AM

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