How to Get What You Want
What do you want most in all the world? More money, a new car stereo, a vacation? To lose ten pounds, to get home from work in time to see your favorite sitcom? Or is it something more than that, something harder to define?
Maybe you’ve given up on ever realizing your true dreams, and you settle for smaller things because they, at least, seem possible. Maybe it never occured to you to ask yourself if the goals you’ve been pursuing really are what you want most. Perhaps, like many people, you feel as if you are being compelled to do things, as if your life is not your own. How often do you feel like that?
Here’s a wild idea: everything you do in your life, you should do because you want to do it, more than anything else in the world. And when you make plans, you should aim for the most exciting, glorious life you could imagine, not just for conventional “success” or “security,” the consolation prizes of the tired and hopeless. What could be more radical than choosing your actions according to how enjoyable they are, rather than how moral, how responsible, how socially acceptable they seem? And yet, what else really makes sense? Haven’t we tried serving every master but our own wishes, fighting for every cause except ourselves? Where has that gotten us?
Pursuing your desires doesn’t just mean blindly following your impulses wherever they lead. It means, first, discovering what you really want: weeding through your desires and deciding which are real and which are illusory, which are stronger and which are weaker, which will bring you the most happiness in the end. It means reconstructing yourself and your life so that you can pursue as many of your desires as possible (since there is no guarantee that all of them can be simultaneously achieved—most of us find ourselves always pulled in different directions by competing impulses and longings); it means prioritizing and analyzing your desires themselves. Maybe what you want is to feel better about yourself: is getting your nails done the answer, or could that impulse be a part of your insecurities? Perhaps you love the countryside; is it enough for you to buy a few acres of it and enjoy that, while the rest of the world is slowly wrapped in concrete?
Pursuing your desires also means reconstructing our society. Each of us is the product of the world we live in; and yet, this world is itself the product of our own efforts. To reconstruct yourself and your life, you must reconstruct the world that constructs and affects you, and for this you will need everyone else’s help. If we want to pursue happiness, we should take responsibility for the world we are creating, and together make sure that it will be one that creates happiness in us. But won’t doing whatever we want pit us against each other? No—it will force us to work together. For the greatest, most ambitious endeavors cannot be carried through alone; they require the participation of other people, even of whole societies. Most of us want community, friendship, to feel safe and free with others more than almost anything else; we need each other to achieve all these things. To create a community in which each of us can live life to the fullest, we must make it possible for all of us to pursue our dreams and be free and creative. Otherwise we’re cheating ourselves of each other’s potential, as well as our own. That’s the secret that the very unambitious “me generation” missed: past a certain point, greed and generosity intersect.
And yes, this will be hard, especially at first. Nothing is more difficult than pushing yourself to always be honest with yourself, demanding the most from yourself and from every day of your life. It will put us at odds with the existing order, that’s for sure. But it’s a struggle worth fighting if any is! A contest of the vast potential that each of us has, and the vaster potential that we all could have together, against everything in this world that is pointless, petty, ugly…
The alternative, of course, is to settle for what we have today, and never question whether there could be more to life.
Ultimately, happiness doesn’t come from just getting what you want and having it, but rather from the process of seeking it—from the free pursuit of your desires and ambitions. It’s that feeling of excitement and weightlessness you experience when you feel free to do and be whatever you want, when life becomes a joyous, ever-changing dance. After centuries of dull servitude to responsibility, propriety, and necessity, we’re not used to expressing and following our dreams—the time has come to learn how.
Think back to the most important day of your life, the day you first discovered love or music or adventure… when a thousand new doors opened, and the world seemed bigger than it ever had before, and suddenly everything was possible.
Why can’t every day feel like that?
Well, for one thing, we don’t exactly live in a society that is designed to help us discern and pursue our hearts’ desires, do we? Whatever the rhetoric about “freedom and the pursuit of happiness” may suggest, our society is filled to the point of absurdity with distractions and restrictions. We’re all so busy struggling to keep up that it’s hard to even remember our dreams, let alone chase after them. And each of us feels so powerless that it’s equally hard to keep in mind that this world we live in is entirely the result of our own efforts: it is our work that has made it this way. Our species has completely transformed the planet. Is this the best of all possible worlds we have built?
If it’s not, why don’t we stop building it, and invent new ways of living and working together—so we can construct another, better world, that will be more pleasurable for all of us! For what should we work towards, if not pleasure and joy?
Have you ever made love and it felt so good it seemed dangerous? Being in love means really wanting to live in a different world: a more exciting world, a more beautiful world, a more joyous, carefree world. A world where everything matters and nothing is ever, ever dull. Why shouldn’t we start to build that world right here, today?