“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
What can I say? I really should start reading more classics and fiction again, as I haven’t had the chance to read The Beautiful and Damned yet. I’m in a nonfiction phase right now, so I’m sure I’ll get to this book one day.
Why do we crave what we can’t have?
Why do we exhibit less care and put in less effort for things / people we have in our lives, only to regret and desire the exact same things / people when we’ve lost them for good?
I’ve always been an avid music listener. There was once when I was in either middle or high school, and I really wanted an iPod mini (does this somewhat reveal my age? Are there even iPod minis anymore?) so I could listen to music during my bus rides to school and my daily 10 kilometer runs. I’ve tried all sorts of methods to ask my mom for one – from saying the kindest, sweetest words to throwing a fit (yes, I know, I was a entitled kid), and despite all of my efforts…she refused. However, when our family friend’s children casually mentioned that they wanted an iPod (keep in mind, they were in elementary school, and the eldest of the three was just about to start middle school), my parents purchased three brand new iPod Touch models for them immediately.
I was bitter over that.
I mean, it explains why I still remember this minor incident. I can definitely afford iPods now…if they still exist, but that’s not the point. I don’t even want one anymore (special shoutout to Spotify over here). Also, I’m pretty sure I’d break the iPod mini not long after getting it anyway, because I was and I am still clumsy and a bit more careless than I should be, especially with electronics. I’m improving on that though.
This whole ordeal was so memorable to me, because I really wanted something I couldn’t have; I was also envious of the lack of hesitation my parents had when they were catering to other people’s desires.
I believe that we’re born competitive. Perhaps it’s because competitiveness is ingrained within our survival instincts. After all, once death looms over us…it’s over. We want to leave our signature in the world before our departure. We’re all so similarly alike as we sit in the figurative dark until that inevitable day arrives.
The sense of accomplishment and self-actualization play a crucial part in catering to our individual competitiveness. Our dopamine levels shoots up when we achieve something that’s relevant and important to ourselves. It could be as small as getting that cute guy / girl’s number after mustering the courage to ask for it, or as big as finding the cure for cancer. I guess if I’m going for relatable events here, it could be as big as getting a promotion or finally getting to work in a career that one has been into for a while, or getting into a dream college.
We all want to be better versions of ourselves. It’s common sense. However, it’s important to remember that the concept of wanting and doing are two separate factors.
Desire is an endless well that will continue filling itself up throughout our entire lifetime, and unfortunately we can never really cater to all of our wants. We can only pick and choose the ones that are more significant and satisfy those as much as possible.
What does doing mean in this case then? Referring back to my iPod mini anecdote, I tried almost everything I could to persuade my mom to buy one for me. However, I didn’t really want the iPod that much, or else I would’ve done something. I would’ve saved money for the iPod. That’s action itself.
Sure, I still remember how much I wanted that iPod, and how betrayed (yes, I’m being dramatic here) I felt when I found out that my parents bought other people the upgraded and pricier item that I wanted. The emotion and feeling were impressive enough for me to still remember them, but the point I’m trying to make here is that I didn’t want it as much as I believed during that time.
We tend to magnify and aggrandize the subjects of our desire in our heads. We unconsciously put on these rose-tinted glasses that skew our perceptions. Don’t believe me? Here are some cases:
Think about your crush if you have one. Is he / she a comedic genius? Are the words coming out of his / her mouth just so profound and deep? He / she can always say the right things. Is he / she the kindest, sweetest, and most considerate person you’ve ever met? How about his / her minor physical flaws, aren’t they just adorable? How about the strange little quirk he / she has?
Think about someone you’ve had a crush on, but that prospect got crushed because of whatever reason (yes, this is a pun). You typically have one burning thought: what did I see in that person before?
I suppose I can add on as well. Compare how you felt about your significant other or exes during and after the honeymoon period of the relationship. The realization (okay, you were always aware of it, but the thought has been stuffed at the back of your mind and there’s a layer of dust on it) that your partner is merely human and isn’t perfect and can be annoying at times is normal. There’s still love and romance there, but in a more realistic light.
Think about your dream job. Wouldn’t it be great if you were working in that industry / sector? You’d excel and work up the ranks, because of your natural talent and hard work. After all, you have the passion and you’re willing to put in the work. You’d be the next rising star in whatever it is that you’re doing.
Have you done related work to your dream occupation? I used to believe that I belong in the fashion industry, and I wanted it enough to give it a shot and I succeeded in getting internships when I was studying in New York. This is also an accidental example of the concept of doing that I’ve just mentioned, because my desire (as well as ulterior motives that I’ll go into some other day) partially pushed me to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love fashion and its related aesthetics. I’ve learned a lot more about the industry and did a lot of foundational work within my position…but I’ve came to a stark realization along with a dosage of existential crisis (as I was certain that fashion was my calling) as I realized that this isn’t an industry I can work in for a long period of time. It is extremely flattering to get LinkedIn recruiter mails from some really famous fashion houses and tech companies personally inviting me for interviews though.
Think about a material object that you want. Sure, you don’t need it, but how much better would your life potentially be with it? How much happier would you be get once you get it?
Think about the actual moment when you got said item above. If you’ve worked hard to obtain the item, then well, your magnitude of happiness and gratification will last a tad bit longer. If you didn’t really exert much effort, well, speaking from personal experience for both instances…you’re going to lose interest sooner than you’d like as material happiness is ephemeral.
Our thoughts are extremely powerful as they can drive us more than we think they can. What we tend to disregard is that we are a bit too idealistic at times when we play out scenarios in our head. We tend to place too much importance over certain people, things, situations, events…and even ourselves (by this, I mean our own beliefs of our individual significance for other people in our lives, and this can potentially be extremely dangerous at times. I’ll write about ego another day) at times. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we were expecting and what happened, and this discrepancy can occasionally cause a lot of internal struggle and angst for us – depending on the subject matter.
Why do we not cherish what we have until it’s lost, and then feel some sort of burning jealousy or bitterness over it until it boils into…you guessed it – desire?
I think it goes back to competitiveness, again. We tend to disregard the importance of whatever / whoever it is that we have possession over, because we don’t need to put in that much effort anymore. The hardest part is completed already. The chase (yes, the hunter in us, hello, history and evolution) is over. We’re living in the bliss of safety once we’re secure. We’re constantly seeking for new stimuli, and it’s not hard to do so in the digital age we live in right now.
However, when we feel a sense of danger, our cortisol (also known as stress hormone) level goes up and the fight or flight response gets evoked. Even though we’re mainly devoid of actual life threatening danger now, we still get such response during situations that hurt us emotionally, too.
Think about the time when you’ve lost someone. It hurts a bit more than it should, doesn’t it (especially if you were the one who got rejected, as it was completely out of your control and the other person calls the entire shot)? You suddenly start to highlight the great times and compare it to the present, which causes a greater discrepancy. It makes you feel even more horrid. We’re all wanting to feel some sort of achievement, thanks to our evolutionary competitiveness that’s hardwired into our brains. We suddenly rewind and the idea that maybe we didn’t appreciate what we’ve had enough when we’ve had the opportunity to hold it within our hands. Instead, we had to be that jackass and let whatever greatness go and all we have right now is the consolation prize – the phantom and the pieces and shards of memories with that person.
So what do we do?
Sometimes we accept the reality and try our best to move on.
Sometimes we wear those rose-tinted glasses again and try to chase whatever it is that we’ve lost.
During those occasions where we actually get what we want again, our glasses fall off fast. We start seeing the flaws easily again, and we stop deifying whatever it is and drop our level of interest and effort up until the point history repeats itself again. Obviously, this doesn’t happen every time, and humans have the capability to change, so there are those times where you’ve recouped what you’ve lost and actually gave a shit and put in continuous effort in order to keep whatever it is in your life. This is crucial to note, as sometimes it takes extreme loss to realize that what you’ve had is actually what you want in your life. We’re a bit weird like that.
Doesn’t it kind of feel like no matter what we do – whether it’s to stay or to go, we lose either way?
Truth be told, life is a lot more about losing than gaining. We lose our identities, we lose friends, families, money, possession, games – we are pretty great at failure in general. This doesn’t mean we’re constantly losing all the time. Victories (small and big) do exist. This applies to every single person, even the most successful people out there. It’s a bit ironic, since we’re so driven to succeed.
We want, because it’s innate. It resonates to our identities and aspirations. When we undergo loss, especially if it’s related to something we’ve owned, it causes a greater impact / pain on us, because of this sense of possession. What once used to be yours is gone. It stings. Again, we like to leave our mark on the world, which partially explains why it hurts more than it should. We’ve also been physically and / or emotionally invested with whatever it is. Those reasons, along with sunk cost fallacy are all factors of how we feel in certain situations of desire and loss.
Each loss is a molding and carving experience of who we are as a person. It makes you realize what is and isn’t important in your life. It creates, defines, and hones your values, morals, and priorities as you get more seasoned in life. The negative feelings part does suck a lot though. I have to admit that. In return, the positives make me feel ecstatic, so I have that going on for me.
You’re always going to want. It’s futile to resist and deny that, so accept that as a fact. The act of wanting doesn’t make you selfish, even though, well…we’re all inherently selfish, anyway (but we also have the ability to be selfless – and it usually only occurs after we’re done being selfish). The purpose here is to figure out what is it that you want that is worth it for you in the long term (and whether or not you’re willing to work for it, because if not, then sorry, you don’t actually want it that much and you’re just not willing to admit it). Pick your battles and stick to them. The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener on the side that you consistently water and work on.
Feel free to desire everything that is that you want, but be picky in the things that you’re willing to work on. And if you realize along that way that you’re actually not that into whatever it is…then let go. You’re only persisting on a regret you’d see in hindsight.