Saturday, January 19, 2008

Desire: A Careful Analysis


In our society and culture, we are powerfully, repeatedly programmed to believe that the way to happiness is, "Desire much, get much (fulfill your desire), and be happy." But a careful study of history demonstrates that there is no relation between material wealth and happiness (contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, joy). But the entire advertising universe is based on this premise. And it involves millions of people and many billions of dollars.

We have all received of, or have been imprinted with, this program. The average teen has heard over 150,000 commercials during her short life.

The advocates of increased desire are everywhere, and every store, every bank, every financial institution, supports them. "Desire more and more" is the universal message.

That is why people actually expect that more dollars mean instant happiness. But interviews with lottery-winners prove that they are often stunned and shocked due to their disappointment at profound feelings of unhappiness after having won major lotteries! With all the money that they could ever spend, they have not found happiness.

Our entire society is a witness to the failure of this program. For unhappiness is ubiquitous and pervasive. Even chronic depression is common, the number one psychological disorder in this very wealthy country.

Radical problems require radical solutions. So, in a quest to understand the very, very important connections between desire and happiness, we must take a very careful look at alternative views.

One of these is the view of people of the Enlightenment Tradition
(mysticism) down through the ages. Whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or from nature-traditions, all mystics agree about this. They all say:

The Way to full happiness is the turning away from, the decrease, even the final renunciation (rejection) of desire. This seems so very odd that it deserves closer examination.

What is desire? By definition, it is a state of dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, incompletion. These factors are more readily associated with unhappiness than with happiness. Advertisers, for example, have only one job: They must make you feel dissatisfied, incomplete. Then, they say, buying their product will make you feel satisfied and complete!

So, desire creates unhappiness. For a person who is completely happy and utterly fulfilled, absolutely satisfied, desires nothing. Desire is a "wave" upon the placid mirror-lake of the calm, tranquil, happy mind.

Let's look at a parable: A little girl was given a red wagon for her birthday. She had been wanting, and hinting, for many years that she wanted a blue bicycle. When she received the wagon, she was miserable.

But the wagon did not make her miserable. It was a fun, fine toy. No, what made her miserable was the desire for the blue bike.

So, events in themselves do not make us unhappy. Instead, it is the desire for them to be different that creates misery. So, if you train yourself to accept whatever occurs in your life, you will have one of the greatest secrets to happiness!

Another parable can illustrate: Two women were born in the same neighborhood on the same day. Each married at age twenty. Each climbed the ladder of "success" to a moderate executive position. But the one, always focused on what she did not have, and what she could not do, was always miserable and complaining. Impressing others, she thought, was a key to "happiness," and she struggled endlessly to impress everyone-- including strangers whom she would never see again! The other, who always thought and spoke about what she did have, and what she could do, was a study in happiness and serenity.

Again, material things do not create happiness. Nor does status, position, or power. Happiness is an attitude, and is internal; it cannot be created by anything external.

Those who, like the happy lady in the parable, diminish and lessen desires require less to satisfy them. They are more easily happy. So, as a rule, those who minimize their desires tend to be happier, while those who follow the dictates of our crazy society, amplifying desires, multiplying them, are more miserable.

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