Desire is not evil. Desire is our inner GPS. But there is a difference between desire and neediness.
Neediness comes from a place of lack. We feel neediness when we pursue things not because we want them for their own sake but because we think having them will boost our self-esteem.
Pursuing self-esteem externally is futile. We were born worthy. We recognise the innate worth of babies; we do not ask them to “earn” our affection.
Valuing ourselves should be a given. But somehow, along the way, someone taught us that our worth was conditional. Maybe on our grades. Maybe on being thin. Maybe on job titles, money, or other people’s approval.
“You can never have enough of what you don’t really need” Dallin H. Oaks
In neediness, there is a feeling of suffering and lack until we have this thing – the ego-driven goal. We feel devastated when we fail to get it.
But even when we achieve it, the satisfaction is fleeting. Because we never really needed this thing to be worthy. There is no way to ever fill an imaginary gap.
Once we achieve one ego-driven goal, we tend to replace it with the next one. We get trapped in a perennial “I will be happy when…” mindset. Our life slips away in a feeling of lack.
That’s what the Buddha referred to when he said that thirst (aka unsatisfied longing) is the route of all suffering.
When pursuing self-esteem, we are like the dog chasing its tail because it thinks that the tail is something external. It never reaches the tail because the tail was on its body all along.
All the dog had to do was accept that it had a tail; no need to chase it. And then it would be free to pursue something more fun, like food, for example.
Neediness stands in the way of our success
The domain we choose to base our self-esteem will define how we spend our time. Students who base their self-worth on grades, for example, study more. Students who base their self-esteem on their looks spend more time grooming while those who base it on virtue, volunteer more.
But, does basing our self-esteem on a certain area make us perform better in that area?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Students who based their self-esteem on grades were not found to perform better on their exams. They were found though to have more conflicts with their professors and more stress. Their anxiety about what was at stake most probably stood in the way of their success.
We see this all the time in life. The needy romantic partner pushes their relationship away precisely because of their insecurity.
The needy-for-recognition employee alienates their colleagues and manager and sabotages their promotion.
Most toxic behaviors at home or work, such as blame, defensiveness, sarcasm, or withdrawal, come from a need to boost or protect our self-esteem.
All we need to build our self-esteem is to accept that we are worthy, just like we are. We are not missing anything.
From that place of feeling whole, we can follow desire.
Desire is How Our Inner Wisdom Speaks To Us
Desire, unlike neediness, comes from a place of abundance and overflow. It feels exciting in our bodies.
Desire focuses on things that we want for their own sake. Pure intrinsic motivation. Not external carrots or sticks. Nor internal carrots and sticks such as self-esteem and shame.
Examples of pure desires could be:
Spending time with people we like. Following our curiosity and building mastery in an area we are interested in. Being creative. Serving a purpose bigger than ourselves. Freedom and autonomy.
Wealth, promotions, and a fit body can still be pure desires if we want them for their own sake and not as a means to something else.
Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman gave up on his research on happiness because he saw that people are not interested in being happy as he had defined the term: a feeling of enjoyment in the here and now.
People, according to Kahneman, are more interested in “life satisfaction, the story they tell about their lives, connected to a large degree to social yardsticks – achieving goals, meeting expectations. It’s based on comparisons with other people.”
Let’s not be like most people. Let’s not waste our life away pursuing things to feel worthy when we were worthy all along.
After we satisfy our real needs – and by the way we need a lot less than we think we do – we can pursue our hearts’ desires from a place of abundance and overflow.
Let’s not let the pursuit of self-esteem move us away from the life we really want.
We are innately worthy. We are innately happy. Now, let’s get out and play.