I just finished reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari and that is one of the major questions he leaves the reader with at the end of his novel. In the context of the book, there is a lot to unpack with this statement, but I want to focus on it on an individual level.
We all know, in theory, what we want. Or at least, what we’re supposed to want. We want money, fame, success, recognition, love, sex, etc. But these desires are programmed into us by society and our communities. On some level, we do get choose which of these is most important to us and how to go about achieving it, but the goal ends up being how we make peace with each of these wants, not question if these wants are what will make us most content.
Perhaps we do a little of this already. Sex is an easy one to dissect. Maybe we know having sex with a stranger would feel good in the moment but the next morning we would feel negatively so we abstain. We know that we pursue sex because it’s physically pleasurable and from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re programmed to want it for reproduction. However, have we ever stopped to wonder if our lives would improve or worsen if we didn’t want sex?
Personally, I had never considered this question before Harari’s final chapter. I had never thought about which pursuit of desires would make me the happiest or most content, I had only thought about how to achieve the things I already supposedly crave.
There is no answer to this question, at least not at present, but I think it might be an important one to consider for each individual person. If you could start from scratch and program your own desires, what do you think would make you the most satisfied? Would it be the pursuit of new technologies? Creation? Destruction? Relationships?
The things I currently want and pursue are healthy relationships, recognition of accomplishments, and fortune. But logically I know that at least two out of these three are merely fleeting examples of contentment in my life. No matter how much money I get, I would have to learn to be satisfied with what I’ve got at some point, and no matter how many people congratulate me on what I’ve achieved, I will never reach everyone. Even relationships can be steeped in turmoil and there’s no guarantee the misery of pursuing people won’t outweigh the reward. If however, I figured out what I should want to want, then life would be simple right?
So what, then, is a suitable thing to want? I’m open for suggestions.