May 30, 2024

Desire is an interesting concept. Fundamentally, a human desire is the answer to the question: what do you want? Desire is discussed broadly by many thinkers.

Naval Ravikant has a pessimistic view on desire, proposing that "desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want". I don't agree. Goals rooted in desires can be contracts for unhappiness but don't need to be. Becoming aware of what one wants does not imply unhappiness as a consequence.

So what do you want? According to Rene Girard's mimetic theory, none of your desires are your own. Instead, we imitate desires from others. I think there is truth to this. We grow up being influenced by the world around us and are heavily shaped by the people we are exposed to. This is especially evident in many young people. They have a clear idea of what they want, but upon deeper examination, you find out that it's not really what they want but a superficial idea they have adopted. Hence, they trick themselves into "wanting" what they think they want.

However, this is not true for everyone. If one embarks on a journey of self-awareness and develops a strong sense of self rooted in solitude, meditation, and silence, one can inspect one's desires and make space for the things they truly want. It's a long journey of contemplation, but ultimately, one can discover their own intrinsic desires. While still influenced by the individual's experiential context, these desires are rooted in their soul.

Girard also suggests that human desire is often rooted in a sense of lack or inadequacy. We want the things we don't have. This is particularly true for the superficial desires we have in the competitive mind, when we try to see where we fit in the social hierarchy. Our desires tend to originate from there.

But there's another, deeper perspective. Wallace D. Wattles proposes that "desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance". This is a positive view of wanting. When one is on the creative plane of life, this holds true. Desire can be genuine, rooted in one's inner self, and nurtured through contemplation and meditation. From this angle, a deeper, more profound element of desire can be found: the desire to express possibility, to have an idea and make it a reality. Viewing desire from this perspective makes it good - a way for us to realize possibilities and evolve.

Regardless of which view of desire you believe in, I'm convinced that there are different layers to it.

Not all desires are created equal.

Desires can be useful or harmful. To move from harmful desires to useful ones, one needs to follow the path of contemplation and introspection. This is the key to wanting things that are good for the world and for oneself.