Can you ignore your desires and still be happy?


A very-well known quote from Buddha is that desire creates suffering. I guess the statement makes sense, especially in today’s world. Term suffering denotes pain, anxiety, stress, distress, discomfort, and frustration. According to Buddhist scriptures, there are three forms sufferings:

The suffering of suffering – the pain of birth, old age, sickness and death.

The suffering of change – as change is the only constant thing in this world, and nothing will last forever. 

All-pervasive suffering – a sense of insecurity, anxiety or dissatisfaction.

We suffer or undergo pain when we are unable to fulfil our desire. Our desires are like a bottomless pit. We’re always seeking, never satisfied. The solution is to renounce our desires, and eventually, our sufferings will end.

Undoubtedly, the desire may lead to suffering, but doesn’t it also provide a sense of contentment? Of course, it does. Then, why does it hurts too? 

In our attempt to eradicate our sufferings, we might suppress our joy and happiness, which will leave us with emptiness and dull, grey existence. 

In this blog, I would like to explore a middle path to experiencing joy without clinging to our desires.

Why do desires cause suffering?

Before I dive into the philosophical inquiry, let us perceive it from the angle of practicality. What does it mean to be without any desire, and why  it looks like a wise idea?

For this example, assume that you have a desire to be rich. I’m considering wealth as an example, but it could be anything, a healthy body, exceptional relationships, academic or career success. Your desire to be rich leads to a couple of side-effects:

You’re unhappy until you become rich – Similar to a hungry man, you will feel hungry until your desire is satiated. 

Wealth is not indefinite – This may seem pessimistic, but you can’t entirely reject the possibility that after geting rich, you might lose it in the future. Wealth is never permanent. 

Even if you become super rich, you’ll crave for more – Either you will set a new goal or become bored with your accomplishment.

Desires are must to achieve big

A common counter-argument could be that our desires play a key role in achieve our goals. Having strong desires for anything can be a good feeling. So it’s not fair to say that the entire build-up to a goal is painful.

I beg to disagree. Pure craving is pain. People starving for food would never describe the feeling as enjoyable. Loneliness can never be referred as fun. Hope, that tomorrow might be a bit better is only reassurance to reduce the pain of desires. Buddha is right. Desire is suffering. 

Should we just give up our desires?

With such a depressing outlook on the human condition, does this mean we should give up on our goals? Sell your house, leave your job or business, renounce the materialistic world and settle on a mountain for an uncomplicated and modest life? Of course not.

There is a middle path. It is not the path between your craving and emptiness, it’s the path that allows you to focus on the process. When you have a process focus, you will not appear much different, and still, you set goals, have challenges and learn from failures. The only difference will be that craving no longer brings sufferings like before, and you will be free to live happier without wanting for more.