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What’s Wrong with Wanting?

Ha, just when you thought I’d had enough with, well, the subject of enough (how to stop when I’ve done enough, and what to do if I think I’m not enough)…here’s a sneaky Part 3! Turns out there’s more to the story - the final chapter is all about having enough versus wanting more.

To want is to be human. On the surface, wanting is a natural part of the human experience, and our wants—to be better, to learn something new, to improve our lives—can motivate us to take useful action. I see this as value-based wanting. Values are those qualities we seek to embody more fully in our lives. Qualities like integrity, honesty, compassion, or love—those things that we never reach capacity for. That is, if I am wanting to have more integrity in my dealings with others, the day won’t come when I would say, “okay, that’s enough integrity in my life, I don’t want any more of THAT.”

Athletes who want to be a better, more technically proficient version of themselves, who want to get better at their craft, are in this camp. This kind of wanting is fueled by Angela Duckworth’s grit - that combination of passion and perseverance - and can lead to the sustained effort needed for longer-term goals worth pursuing.

The relationship between wanting and unhappiness. When our wanting doesn’t translate to behaviour/something we can do, or when the want is insatiable (that is, even if we get some of what we want but it’s not…wait for it…enough), wanting makes us unhappy. And we’re unhappiest when we become dissatisfied with what we have and decide that we want more.

On the other hand, we are happier— not when we have it all (whatever that means)—but when we are content with what we have.

How exactly does wanting hurt us? When we want, we are (a) immediately propelled into a state of dissatisfaction, and (b) yanked out of the present moment--which research suggests is the place of greater relative happiness--to less-happy future thinking. Wanting also sets up expectations which can be difficult to manage in the best of times.

Most troubling in my experience is the human tendency to think that, if I just get XXX, I will be happy. This conditional state of happiness not only pushes our happiness off into the future but so often becomes a hamster wheel of effort. We spin and spin, working toward some future desired outcome…or better version of ourselves…leaving that feeling of dissatisfaction, frustration, or lack as our perpetual present state. Who wants that?

The perils of consumerism. As it happens, today is Valentine’s Day in Australia - a day to celebrate love and relationship that has unfortunately been co-copted by our modern consumerist culture and presented back to us in the form of things to buy and expectations to meet. Chocolates and roses, anyone?

The reality is that we are constantly being conditioned through advertising to buy things and use products. Our economic systems depend on it. Billions of advertising dollars are spent each year to persuade us to keep on buying.

As a result, we develop desires for consumer items we don’t really need. We crave more money and more success and status. We keep wanting, and so become more and more dissatisfied. This goes some way toward explaining why the world’s wealthiest countries are often not the happiest.

So, what’s a good culturally conditioned capitalist supposed to do? :)

As always, it’s good to start with awareness. What are my Big Wants and do I really want them? It’s okay to say yes. Just know why that want is important to you. And pay attention to those wants that merely increase your suffering or cause you to consistently deny yourself happiness in the moment as a condition of going after that want.

Along with any wanting, and this should not be an either-or choice, but is something you can do at the same time…has to do with appreciation and gratitude. Want something more…and appreciate what you have. This kind of appreciation is linked to contentment. Even intermittent, mindful contentment can go some way to blunting the ill effects of constant wanting.

The Buddhists got it right when they noted (a) the obvious reality that suffering exists in our lives, and (b) suffering is caused by craving. They go as far as to say that it is this ability to free ourselves from craving that brings us closer to enlightenment.

But even if enlightenment isn’t on your bucket list :), consider how you might work better with wanting. If this is something you are struggling with, I can help with that.


P.S. My book has been published!

When Grit is not Enough is about what you can do when your usual "go hard" mantra is no longer working. As the tagline says, this is a book about how to rework your mindset and purpose for easier effort in hard times.

Order your copy from Amazon or Booktopia. I'd love to hear how you found it!

P.P.S. In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on achieving the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at

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