The Psychological Mindscrew Of Craving What We Can't Have

Photo: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock
woman having craving

I grew up Jewish, but by and large, I'm an atheist. Still, I know my Bible, I know my traditions and rituals, and I know that there are lots of good people who are religious.

There are lots of people, decent people, who say the Ten Commandments are good principles for how to live your life. And the Ten Commandments are a kind of sh*tty baseline. I mean, rape isn't even ON there, and murder comes in at a pretty lowly #6.

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But there's something that is on there that really is good life advice: "Thou shalt not covet." This basically means, "Don't want what you can't have." It's a lot harder than not raping or murdering people.

The thing about desire is, it feels like you can't control it. People say, "The heart wants what it wants," and that's true — to an extent. The heart wants what it wants, but the brain is stronger.

The brain is capable of saying, "Yeah, you really want that Hollywood Regency tufted velvet sofa, but you really don't want to spend the next year eating ramen." And because the heart is an assh*le, the more unachievable the thing, the harder it is to stop wanting it.

We want emotionally unavailable people to love us. We want our bosses to tell us we were right and they were wrong.

We want to change the quintessential nature of people and things.

The Ten Commandments don't say, "Thou shalt not hope thy ex's new girlfriend to be ugly and uninteresting," but that's what it comes down to.

In Buddhism, the philosophy is that desire is the root of all human suffering. It's definitely the root of the million-dollar straightening iron industry. Because all of us, everyone, has desires we can never fulfill. And they make us miserable.

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As much as the heart wants things, we have to spend our time making our brains be stronger than our hearts.

We have to remind ourselves that we live in a world that will never stop presenting us with stuff we can't have, from Audis to longer legs.

We live in a world where, amazingly, what you see is usually what you get. And what you see is a lot of hard work and a bunch of dysfunctional people.

The stuff we crave is so appealing because it's so different from what we know we're going to end up with.

We know the guy who broke our heart is probably going to get obsessed with his gym and get sexier the minute he's out of reach. We know our boss is going to screw us over and take credit for our work.

We know we're going to get a used pull-out couch on Craigslist and spend three days afraid to sit on it.

The thing is, if we tell our hearts to shut up already and stop trying to want all the stuff we can't have, we can take a look at what we have in a different way.

We can feel good about our own choices, moving on from a guy who's shallow and self-obsessed.

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We can know that with our hard work, eventually, we'll be in the position to be in charge, and not screw people over with that power.

We know we'll eventually sit on the couch and eat the delicious takeout we can afford, without worrying about destroying the upholstery.

We can take a look at all the coveting we can't stop ourselves from doing, and give it the finger.

Lea Grover is a writer and speaker living on Chicago's south side. She can be found on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook, or preparing her upcoming memoir.