“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.” Rene Girard, French philosopher
This isn’t going to be one of those hippy articles that goes on about how Lockdown has changed them ‘spiritually and emotionally’ but lockdown has changed me spiritually and emotionally. So at risk of sounding like a saccharine Instagram motivational quote I’m going to tell you about ‘my journey’. (Yes, you’re right to read that in the voice of Brene Brown).
Before Lockdown I was consumed by thoughts of ‘I’ll be happy, WHEN I GET (insert the thing that you want). I believed that once I got, (that thing I thought I really wanted) I’d be truly happy. Yet, what I didn’t realise was that my obsession with getting what I wanted in order to make me happy was actually stopping me from being happy. Like, duh WTF?! I KNOW RIGHT? (Yes, you’re right to read that in the voice of Brittany Murphy’s ‘Tai’ from Clueless).
I also started thinking about this philosophical conundrum as I tended to my sourdough starter: What if we don’t get what we think we want? The thing that we think will make us happy. Does that mean we can never be happy? OH SHIT, RU 4 REALS? (Yes, you’re right to read that in the voice of Gemma Collins).
Let’s be honest, we all want stuff, don’t we?
It’s what makes the world go round, the pursuit of stuff to make us happy. It’s even been commodified- when Don Draper says in Mad Men that, “Advertising is based on one thing — happiness”, he exposes the corrupt truth about Businesses and Corporations. They are built on making you feel like you are missing something. Companies are all about creating a product which alludes to filling that void. Their subliminal message is thus: You want this product because it will make you happy.
Commodification and capitalisation aren’t synonymous with happiness though. It negates the exact philosophy of the Zen Buddhists who are arguably the most content people on this planet. (And they’re vegan and sober so that’s saying something).
The Zen Buddhists philosophy it to eradicate all wants. The comedian Louis CK, before he got cancelled (RIP) expressed a version of this philosophy with a joke where he said the way to be happy with your body is ‘to want to have a shitty body’. In short, instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have and be grateful for it.
This is all well and good to say but it’s actually quite difficult to not want stuff. This is why it helps to understand why we want things. The French philosopher, Rene Girard discovered that the things we want are based on the things that other people have. E.g. we see Kim Kardashian wearing Chanel sunglasses, we want Chanel sunglasses. This is called Mimetics. It’s evident in restaurants when you get food envy at your friend’s meal and why you suddenly want your ex back when you see him with another girl. It’s the human condition, we want the things that other people have!
It is to be ascertained therefore that the real key to happiness is not to want the things that other people have but to want the things that we need. It’s like that Rolling Stones song, ‘You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you’ll get what you need.” To be fair to Rod Stewart, he should have taken his own advice and not listened to what we wanted, (tall blonde women, half his age) and gone more for what he needed (a hair cut).
What we really and truly need is healthier aspiration. E.g. You think you need a Rolex watch to help you tell the time because that’s what you think will make you happy. But what you actually need is an understanding that time is precious and to not waste it on material things but to spend that time with your favourite people. (I spend time with my favourite people every day, by listening to them on podcasts).
This is the spiritual and emotional journey that I have come to. I have finally got to a place in my life where I’m wanting what I truly need. I am not wanting the life of a celebrity on Instagram*, adored by millions of followers hanging on their every word (although that would be very nice as pretty sure only my mum reads my work). I’m finally not wanting what I’m seeing others have. Not even the entire Sex and the City wardrobe of Carrie Bradshaw circa Season 1–5.**
To tailor the Nora Ephron quote in When Harry Met Sally, ‘I’m not wanting what she’s having!” (It was all fake anyway).
I’m searching for what I really, really, really want and what I really, really, want is so ethereal it is barely even tangible, the only way to express it is thus:
I really, really, really wanna Zig-Ah-Zig-Zahra!!
*Alas it seems that Social Media is like an electric fence, no matter how much it pains you every time, you cant help going back to it.
**(FYI Patricia Field if you’re reading this it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the masterpieces of Season 6 I just found them a little too flamboyant, even for my tastes).