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The Anatomy of Desire
"Desire, like an atom, is explosive with creative force." - Paul Vernon Buser
The word "desire" comes from the Old French word "desirer," which means "to long for, to wish for." The Old French word is derived from the Latin word "desiderare," which combines "de-" (an intensifying prefix) and "siderare" (to long for, to yearn). The Latin word initially meant "to feel the absence of something, to miss," and later evolved to mean "to long for, to wish for strongly."
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher, and one of his most famous ideas is that desire is the root of all suffering.
Schopenhauer says our desires are endless and can never be completely satisfied. We always strive for something more, something better, and this constant pursuit of happiness leads to disappointment and unhappiness. Schopenhauer believed we should strive to eliminate our desires and accept life as it is rather than constantly seeking something more.
With an outlook on life like his, I can’t help but think of his poor children.
Overall, Schopenhauer saw desire as a powerful force that drives us forward but also brings us pain and suffering. Therefore, he believed that we should strive to understand our desires and work to overcome them to achieve a more contented and peaceful existence.
But pain and suffering can lead to growth if we don’t get defeated by it and try to find the lesson in the experience.
Understanding one's desires can be a complex and ongoing process, but here are a few suggestions:
First, reflect on what you want and why; write it all on paper. (Below is an excellent video by Simon Sinek, I’d suggest watching it first.)
Assuming that your desire is healthy, sometimes, seeking thoughts from trusted friends or family members can be helpful. They can offer a different perspective on your desires and help you better understand them.
But sometimes, you have to go it alone, as I did. When mentioning to others I wanted to make low-sugar preserves, they usually made silly comments, or their expressions said it all, “Sure, Bruce, sure.”
Healthy desires align with our values and priorities and contribute to our overall well-being. These desires can help us grow, improve, and lead fulfilling lives.
On the other hand, unhealthy desires harm ourselves or others and undermine our well-being.
Sometimes desires can be healthy in moderation but unhealthy when taken to extremes. The desire to succeed in one's dream is generally healthy, but when taken to extremes, it can lead to burnout, stress, and other negative consequences.
Been there, done that. Burnout is not a healthy place to be. I am still dealing with it as I write this.
Healthy desires can be a positive force, drive innovation, move ideas forward and motivate positive behaviour.
My new desire is to learn the writing craft; I write to learn and share lessons learned as well. But I have to pace myself as I tend to get totally consumed when there is a mission to accomplish. Burnout comes from a lack of self-care, and writing is not about quantity; it is about quality.
Poet Donald Hall states a truism "I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. An ambitious project—but sensible, I think. ... If our goal is to write poetry, the only way we are likely to be any good is to try to be as great as the best."
Healthy desires align with our values and priorities. If your desire is consistent with what you believe is essential in life, then it's more likely to be healthy. They also contribute to our overall well-being and are not harmful to ourselves or others. If your desire benefits yourself and others, then it's more likely to be healthy.
Many people use their desire for personal gratification and growth, which could be a bonus for family, community or the world.
You don’t have to be Ghandi, Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela, but your healthy desire can be a force for good.
Something to Ponder
What is your why?
Is the desire beneficial for you and others?
Will your desire contribute to personal growth and development?
Is the desire manageable and realistic?
Determining whether a desire is healthy or not can be subjective and context-dependent. What is beneficial for one person may not be fit for another, and what is healthy in one situation may not be healthy for another. Therefore, taking a reflective and mindful approach is essential when assessing your desires.
Have a great day!