It was a warm Saturday morning, idyllic really, shorts and t-shirt temperatures with not a single cloud in the sky. Together with a good friend, some delicious pastries were soon acquired and in hand. The particular café we had found was already packed with people by the time we had arrived, but this posed little resistance as it was easy enough to find a section of wall outside to lean against while eating.
Within the combination of being in sunshine, eating pastries, having great conversations and being surrounded by the comforting ambiance of a well-loved neighbourhood café, I was struck by how content I was able to feel in that moment. Little else mattered much and there was none of the usual temptation of asking for more.
In hindsight, this experience was a reminder of an observation encountered previously, which goes as follows: “there is so much that I want, but so little that I need.” That small transitory experience was yet another hint that the chase does not need to be enveloped by extravagance, and that much can be had with so little.
‘Take heed of the things that make reappearances,’ is a general heuristic that has been quite useful in my own experiences, and clearly there were things happening here that I still do not fully comprehend for a second appearance to be warranted.
One of the reasons it has stuck around, I suspect, is because the engine that is at the core of my being is one that is inclined to always be pushing for ‘more’. To be more, to do more, to have more. The most explicit side effects of this hunger is through the possession of material objects, but it also rears its head through various other facets of life — money, career, fitness, health, knowledge, spirituality and relationships.
To have an engine that is geared towards pushing for ‘more’ is a valuable skill to have, of course, but the journey of being in pursuit carries with it an intrinsic risk of tunnel vision. To participate in the chase towards some specific end is to make a judgement of value — to highlight and hone in on what is most desirable, or deemed as essential, at the cost of ignoring all else that is perceived to be less so in that moment.
There is a undertone when it comes to being in pursuit towards what one desires or needs, which is the subtle acknowledgement that things as they are today are not what they could be. That to choose and engage in the pursuit of some specific end is to choose to be dissatisfied with things as they currently are. Otherwise, why would there be any reason for one to move towards any particular direction?
Having said all of the above, there are important distinctions to make between what are considered to be ‘desires’ from those of ‘needs’.
We know already that they both involve journeys imbued with discontent, but one is more rigid and bounded than the the other. ‘Needs’ are those elements that are grounded by biological constraints - like hunger, thirst, physical security and social belonging. In contrast, ‘desires’ tend to be elements that are unconstrained and are openly susceptible to whims. Needs are finite while desires are limitless.
I think this contrast is important to know because it points towards the idea that to pursue desire is to live a life in perpetual dissatisfaction.
I do not think this necessarily means that the ‘right’ thing to do is to scorn the existence of desires, as we know that it can serve as a potent fuel for moving oneself towards some specific destination, but I do think that it is important to not mistaken the pursuit of desire (optional) for the pursuit of necessity (must-do).
One of the things that time has gradually revealed to me is that my personal lists of needs and desires started off not as two clean and differentiated entities but were instead blurred into one confused blob.
“I need to be financially successful, therefore I must own a red Ferrari.” would be the sort of quote I would shamelessly hang up on my bedroom wall.
If only life were that straightforward and clean cut!
Over time, the thing that has happened for me is a) the distinction of wants away from needs and b) the shrinking of the list of needs and the perpetual expansion of the list of desires.
It became obvious that there was not just a single ultimate desire that would quell them all. There were many and they were nuanced.
The dream of owning a red Ferrari is still there, mind you, but now I would rephrase it as follows.
“If I am sufficiently determined and patient, I will eventually get to own all of the things that I want.”
What was previously a ‘must’ and considered a ’need to’ has transitioned to an ‘if’ and a ‘get to’.
“Man plans, and God laughs,” as the old saying goes. Only time will tell the truth, we shall see how things unfold from here.
“If you pay attention, when you are seeking something, you will move towards your goal. More importantly, however, you will acquire the information that allows your goal itself to transform.
A totalitarian never asks, “What if my current ambition is in error?” He treats it, instead, as the Absolute. It becomes his God, for all intents and purposes. It constitutes his highest value. It regulates his emotions and motivational states, and determines his thoughts.
All people serve their ambition. In that manner, there are no atheists. There are only people who know, and don’t know, what God they serve.”
- Jordan Peterson, ’12 Rules for Life’