wanting.

by Amelia

a little over a month ago, a dear friend’s father died.  about two weeks ago, i went to her dad’s house on the day they were clearing out furniture and everything else so the house could be prepared for the market and sold.  i stopped to see my friend and maybe give her a spot of good cheer at a hard time.  we shared some conversation and some laughter.  i enjoyed being there.  and i think it helped my friend a bit for me to stop by for a while.

as they were wrapping up the last few details, i tried to keep out of the way by wandering around the house and the yard.  it’s a cute house—built in the 50s; big picture windows with a wonderful window seat; quirky architectural details; a door jamb recording decades of a family’s growth; a wonderful berry patch and fruit trees in the back yard.  and i knew i could make that house a home—a perfect place to raise a family; a yard brimming with growing things to nourish the body and the soul; a home full of love and joy and strength when life gets hard.  and i was filled with wanting.

a couple of days later, one of my best friends moved into a new little house after living with a family member for a couple of years so she could save money.  i was thrilled for her that she could be on her own.  and when i went to see her new place, i was even more excited.  she’s found a perfect little place—a one bedroom stand-alone apartment on the back half of a property in a historic part of orange county.  not only is the apartment cute, it has its own yard with gorgeous fully grown palm trees and flowers and the rent is unbelievably low and includes utilities.

i was so happy for my friend.  but i was also incredibly jealous.  i live at home with my parents at the moment in my own effort to save money (the joys of living on a grad student income in southern California).  while it’s wonderful in some ways, it drives me crazy in others.  i would be beside myself with joy if i could have my own little place all to myself—a little home that i could make my own with my books and my dishes and my own sense of style; a little home for myself where i could do what i want with no explanations to anyone.  but it’s something that will simply never be a reality while i’m a student.  for days after helping my friend get settled, i was filled with wanting.  again.

i feel a certain amount of shame that my reaction to one friend’s difficulty in settling her father’s affairs and to another friend’s happiness at making a fresh start was self-absorption—longing for my own fresh beginning; wanting what i cannot have at the moment.  i’m not entirely ashamed.  i think the desire to build a home is a good desire.  i think the desire to create my own home for myself now—to be independent and to provide myself a refuge—is a good desire.  but i don’t like the way i fixate on those desires to the point that they can become disruptive to my own state of mind and interfere with my ability to relate to others, instead focusing me on myself.

my understanding of the gospel has led me to believe—deeply believe—that we are to live life fully in this moment.  that we’re supposed to find what joy and beauty and goodness we can in the life we have now.  a couple of qualifications:  1. i understand that the conditions of some people’s lives are simply unacceptable, but in this post i’m talking about people like myself—richly and wonderfully blessed with incredible opportunities, living a generally comfortable and secure life.  2.  i know that many people respond to this problem by referring to promises of future blessings—either later in this life or in the next life.  i believe god has promised us blessings in the next life.  and i know that thought comforts some people.  but i’ve found it cold comfort.  and i firmly believe that even if we should acknowledge that god’s goodness will continue beyond this life, we’re supposed to recognize his goodness now.  more importantly, i think we’re supposed to build on that goodness—to live this moment fully and beautifully, which we cannot do if our eye is fixed either on what we desire but don’t have OR on what we think god will give us in the next life.

so here’s my question: how do you deal with such desires?  how do you make peace with the conditions of your life now?  more importantly, how do you do so without looking forward?  how do you live in this moment, fully and joyfully experiencing the gifts it brings?  feel free to share scriptures, thoughts, practices, behaviors, etc.  maybe i shouldn’t say this, but i’m going to ask you not to share reassurances that depend on future blessings.  not because i believe they’re utterly meaningless; i know such reassurances can bring peace.  but i’m looking for ways to live in the now because i believe that’s the key to peace and happiness.  so let’s save advice about future blessings and the next life for another post.

Amelia

Amelia has recently relocated to Salt Lake City for her new job selling college textbooks (a job she loves). She’s a 9th generation Mormon redefining her relationship with the church (the church she both loves and hates). She’s passionate about books, travel, beauty, and all things cheese.

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  1. AmyB says:

    I definitely relate to this feeling. I find that I am most content when I am strong in my practice of gratefulness. If I make ritualized moments every day where I sit, usually at the end of a meditation, and reflect on all that I am grateful for, my desires for things I don’t have tends to melt away. It’s a simple switch of focus, but takes consistent, concerted effort for it to work for me.

  2. MoJo says:

    I’m not one to be able to count my blessings. I’ve never been able to and I’ve had to resign myself to workaround solutions.

    how do you deal with such desires?

    I find ways to implement them and I think out of the box and I don’t dismiss seemingly bizarre ideas out of hand.

    how do you make peace with the conditions of your life now?

    I don’t. I find ways to fix them, even if they’re hard.

    more importantly, how do you do so without looking forward? how do you live in this moment, fully and joyfully experiencing the gifts it brings? feel free to share scriptures, thoughts, practices, behaviors, etc.

    I always look to the future. When I find I’m in the future, I look back to see how much I’ve accomplished and invariably, it surprises the heck out of me.

    So with all that said, I would have been more empathetic with your situation if you hadn’t said you were in SoCal. There’s an easy fix (changing grad programs notwithstanding): Move somewhere else where it’s cheaper to live.

    That’s how I look at things. I figure out what I want. I brainstorm to find an answer to it no matter how out of the realm of possibility it seems at the moment. I pick a plan of action. I write a list how to accomplish it.

    Again, that’s just how I approach my life, in lieu of the fact that I am not a count-my-blessings type of person. YMMV.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Great post, Amelia.
    I just read an article about jealousy and envy in a magazine. The author had great advice. She said admitting that you have these feelings is a good first step. Also, taking immediate steps in your life (starting a savings account, for example) to achieve your goals can also help you feel better, even if you can’t have what you want right away.
    I know I feel jealousy and envy sometimes. It’s especially hard when it’s someone I know and love.

  4. amelia says:

    i relate to your practice of gratefulness, AmyB. when i’ve struggled the most with depression, i’ve been able to mitigate its effects by forcing myself to look at my world in this moment and identify the beautiful things it gives me daily and the loving relationships i have with family and friends. no matter how small the things are i can list–a flower blooming outside my house, a bird singing outside my window–they help.

    mojo–it sounds like your version of looking to the future is very much rooted in what you can actively *do* now. which i like. i’ve tried in the last year or so to take a more proactive approach to changing my present circumstances. because another effect of depression for me has been paralysis.

    as for empathy–well, i’m not really asking for empathy. and while i agree in the abstract that moving from SoCal is one solution to cost of living (and one i’ll take as soon as possible), it’s not practical on any level at the moment. it may be possible to change grad programs and move, but it would be incredibly stupid to make the attempt. on several levels. which is why i’m not asking for advice about how to change my circumstances, but rather for advice on how to make peace with them.

  5. MoJo says:

    which is why i’m not asking for advice about how to change my circumstances, but rather for advice on how to make peace with them.

    I’m sorry. I thought you were asking for people not to talk about future blessings and the next life, so I understand better now.

    I’m very uncomfortable with myself when I feel jealousy and envy. I do. A lot. Really bad. And I hate it. It’s the only emotion I find truly evil within myself, so that’s what motivates me to figure out what I can do to actively fight that.

  6. amelia says:

    no need to apologize whatsoever. i think your comments about doing what you can now to reach where you want to be in this life tomorrow is really sound advice. and, as jessawhy pointed out, doing so can go a long ways to eliminating feelings of jealousy.

    and i agree with you–i think jealousy and envy are incredibly poisonous. to self, to relationships, to all the good that is in one’s life. definitely something i want to try not to feel. and to fight when i do feel it.

  7. Tacy says:

    I brought up a similar dichotomy to a friend recently, and his suggestion surprised me, though it now seems readily apparent.

    I wanted to feel more happy with my life (i too am a college student, living at home, wishing for my own space), and i wanted to feel it now, not in two years when college is over.

    My friend brought up a helpful business technique that many new managers use to generate trust in a foreign situation. He said, “Go for a quick fix”. Find something you can do immediately and with a fair amount of ease that will feel like positive progress toward your end goal.

    Long story somewhat shorter, i have always dreamed of having an herb garden in my future home, so i got some herbs and potted them in the kitchen window. It was a little thing, but its gone a long way toward helping me be happy now.

  8. Ana says:

    One thing that helps me is looking backward instead of forward. When I think of all the times I have been consumed with wanting in the past, without getting what I wanted, I can see that most of those situations turned out for the best. I wouldn’t trade what I got for what I wanted. It’s hard to see that in the present, but when we look into the past sometimes we see more clearly. It increases my confidence that my current situation will also work out for the best. (As for me, I am chomping at the bit for my husband to finish his terminal degree so we can see what’s next … patience is very hard!)

  9. Violet says:

    Thanks amelia for your thoughtful post. I have wondered about these questions myself lately especially as I transition from working out of the home as a teacher to staying at home to take care of my two daughters (4yrs & 4months). It has not been an easy transition for me. I love my daughters and can’t imagine life without them, but some days I can’t help but think of the things I am missing out on right now. Like I would love to pursue more graduate studies, but it makes the most sense to wait for now. My husband will be going to grad school and working fulltime. Part of me is jealous of my single, childless friends who are able to devote themselves fulltime to graduate work. However, it makes more sense for me to wait until my girls are a little older.

    I think for me the best way to make peace with the conditions of my life right now is acceptance. I love the first part of the AA Serenity prayer “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    I love teaching and I really, really, really miss it. There are parts that I didn’t like, nasty emails from parents, dealing with administration and on the other hand I got a lot of satisfaction of helping students learn about history. I also recognize that I have two young children and it just doesn’t make economic sense to put them both in childcare. High quality childcare is very expensive. Not to mention I do love spending time with my children and love watching them grow and learn.

    So I’ve decided that I need to accept that this is where I am in my life and pray to accept that. I’m not really interested in changing my situation, but it is hard to not think about all the things I could be doing now. I really don’t think it would be wise to do something different even though it is possible. I have made the decision I the most comfortable with. I have several girlfriends who would love to be in my situation, they can’t stay at home full time with their kids and here I am whining about it. I have so much to be grateful for, two children, an education, a home and spouse I adore.

    Eventually, I do plan to pursue a Phd, but for now I am working on accepting where I am right now rather than where I could be. With acceptance there is a certain amount of serenity & peace that has helped immensely.

  10. Kiri Close says:

    I’m a bit of a weirdo about this.

    Lemme explain: If i want something some other has, I go right up to them and say so. If I feel jealous about it, i go up to them and say so. I believe everyone has jealousy and envy, but I don’t believe everyone should harbor these unhealthily.

    Admitting it to the very person we are jealous of has for years transformed me into an extremely unjealous person. Weird, I know. But this is my experience, take it or leave it.

    It is nice for me to keep myself unraveled in this ‘wanting’, because in the end, no one really has anything i want to the point where i feel bad.

    I already have many great things in my life now that keep me happy, quite honestly.

    I do have a problem, however, when others (women especially) do/say things to make other jealous on purpose—as if they seek an audience for the parade that is their insecurities (and always for stupid things like being some office manager, or weight loss, or the high price they spent on a dress, or being a president/counselor in a church auxiliary,cheap jewelry—list is pitifully, pettily endless).

    It’s always bugged me why there is a need for competition along that grain of things.

    Why would they choose that particular performance? It’s dumb and to me, makes braggarts appear terrifically uninteresting, and just plain stupid. I’m sorry–but I’m not interested in things I perceive as stupid.

    THAT part of wanting (in others) I hate. Frankly, most of my gal palz from high school do this. One in particular couldn’t stand that I was traveling the world, completed a Phd from Switzerland, living in Asia at the time, & studied a little bit at an Ivy League.

    I never made it a point to tell her (or my other classmates) what I was doing (she found out on my myspace page) and thought that her just buying a house, having her 4th kid, and being primary president at church would ‘top’ me (i never thought low of her in the first place, so I never understood why she would go to such lengths to see these merits of hers as bragging rights).

    She was so unable to deal with her jealousy that she lashed out some really weird message on my myspace comment section (and even added something about how George W. Bush is my real father–?????). Bizarre, yet expected from someone who is unable to come to terms with truths.

    Long story short, she was unable to come to terms with my later little private message to her basically saying, “you have nothing i want”. I just wanted her friendship and support, and I felt I had given these two invaluable things to her since our days in high school.

    For me personally, my own wanting persists this way:

    1) Travel globally by backpacking
    2) Learn languages
    3) Head to law school
    4) enjoy the arts
    5) enjoy/cook great world cuisines
    6) independence from kids at this time
    7) reading
    8) writing articles and books
    9) to get more fit
    10) scrapbook
    11) surfing incessantly for that Marc Jacobs/Vuitton bag i’ve been unable to locatet for weeks

    These are just a few things of my infinite wanting that keep my life exciting to me. I don’t feel bad about these.

    They are not ways that imprison me, particularly when i see others doing them.

    hope this makes sense.

    She has nothing I want, and I hate that it kills her to the point she can’t be honest about it.

  11. djinn says:

    I had jealousy hit me in the face when I first
    encountered people seemingly of my same status
    and in my same social group who actually came
    from very very wealthy families. It was a real
    shock. I must have walked around a less than
    lovely shade of cartoon-character avocado green
    for days. But, I suppose, my short attention
    span kicked in, and I forgot. No, it wasn’t
    quite that easy; I remembered my father telling
    me that no matter how big you are, there’s
    always someone else who could knock you out.

    So, I played a thought experiment; if, say, I
    were as wealthy as S, would there be someone
    even better off who I could still be jealous
    of? Why Yes! This was helped along quite a
    bit by the sister of one of these friends, who,
    not only inherited money, but had a rather
    spectacular job and a husband to match. Has she
    found serenity? Nope. Turns out there were
    even better ski resorts for winter vacations
    with the kids than the ones she was forced
    to fly to. So, I decided that what I had was
    fine, and to waste my energy differently.

  12. Caroline says:

    Amy, I love this post. I know I can relate to that emotion. My sense of wanting is generally aimed at people who are pursuing their professional goals, people who know what they want to do with their life and are actively making it happen with a sense of purpose and confidence. This, of course, stems from my uncertainty on those issues.

    I think it’s ok to have desires. I might envy my friends who are in grad school, but it’s not a mean spirited envy. It’s not a situation where I think they don’t deserve what they have and it’s not an envy that makes me forgot all the wonderful things in my life. I think if I can balance desire with appreciation for the good relationships, beauty of the world, etc. that surround me, I’m not going to be eaten up with unhealthy emotions.

    I wish I had more words of wisdom on how to appreciate the moment. It’s something I often struggle with.

  13. Caroline says:

    Here’s a nice quote about happiness that I just heard on The Writers’ Almanac

    “Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.” Iris Murdoch

  14. Idahospud says:

    Great post, amelia.

    Despite the fact that I probably appear to have it all (lotsa healthy kids, great hubby, nice home, education, etc.) I still fall prey to the green-eyed monster and battle depression as well (sometimes the two are connected for me). I want, too. AmyB’s practice of gratefulness is something I do, also, and think it helps me 1) pull me into the present moment of my undoubtedly blessed life, and 2) recognize that great things do happen to and for me and that I can continue to expect good things. Oh, and then 10 minutes later I get sabatoged by one thing or another, but I do try make gratitude a daily practice.

    Another thing that helps me when I’m distracted with wanting is something a friend pointed out to me a few years ago. She said that our agency only operates in the present moment; therefore, joy can only exist in the present rather than being pined for (in the past) or wished for (in the future). When I manage to remember that bit of wisdom, it helps me refocus.

  15. Angie says:

    “how do you live in this moment, fully and joyfully experiencing the gifts it brings?”

    Whew! That’s the money question

  16. gladtobeamom says:

    How do you deal with such desires?

    I have to deal with each desire separately. Not all my desires are good ones so I learn to live without some knowing in the end it is a better choice and other desires I just hope for or work toward.

    How do you make peace with the conditions of your life now?

    This is a hard question for me to answer. Just when I think I have it down something else changes that I have to make peace with. I have to work really hard at looking at what I do have which is hard some days. There are so many aspects of want. Money and things are not my real issue. I found on a lot of things serving others and helping them cope with finding their peace helps me to take the focus off of my self. It is hard though some times when your trying to find that peace and it is not something anyone can help you with.

    How do you do so without looking forward? How do you live in this moment, fully and joyfully experiencing the gifts it brings?

    I too agree with one of the previous post that said it helps to look back. I can never see forward and it drives me crazy. When I look back over my life etc. I see things I couldn’t see then and it helps. For me some of learning to be happy in the moment has had to be learned. I wish it happened with every aspect but it doesn’t.

    I am learning now to be happy with my body and my extra pounds.
    I am learning to be happy even though I attend church without my husband.
    I am learning to be happy even when my children do everything the opposite of what I ask.
    I am learning to find peace in who I am and my accomplishments. It helps to focus on yourself and not judge others or myself to harshly.
    I am learning that it is a day to day process and allow that I will have bad days.
    There are so many things I want that I don’t know that I will ever have. I try to have hope but at the same time don’t focus on them so much that I miss what I do have or miss enjoying life now.

    Watching my children has been a great lesson to me they enjoy so many things we take for granted everyday. My 2 year old got so excited at the airport about belt the transported the luggage behind the counter, or the birds on our deck or any number of things. I try to follow her lead and see all the amazing wonderful things around me. There are so many things to take joy in.

    Two of my favorite scriptures that help me on bad days is D&C 50: 40.
    Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
    Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

    I am learning that happiness is a choice. Learning to be a peace or joy right now falls under this choice. I have certainly not perfected it. I see so many happy people around me so I am learning to find what makes me happy and then choose to do it. I am learning to be happy by looking for the good in what I do have rather then focusing on what I don’t.

    We are here to have joy now and I am personally tired of not having it. As I look and strive for it I seem to be finding more of it.

  17. gladtobeamom says:

    Sorry one more thing. I have learned that if you say or think “I will be happy when…” you will never find joy. It is sometimes all in the attitude. For me when I finally achived that thing I still wasn’t happy because there is always something else to be unhappy about. I like the post that talks about joy being a now kind of thing. It helps to give me some perspective.

  18. Zenaida says:

    You know, I like your term, wanting, instead of jealousy. I think we need to want things like home and growth. We apparently seek out what is virtuous, lovely, etc., so I think wanting is a good motivator. For me to avoid falling into jealousy, I brought myself closer to those I envied and learned to understand their wants and desires. I created lasting friendships and realized that I no longer envied them. I found that what I have is good for me, and I am inspired by others to continue to progress. Another tool I use is recognizing why I don’t have some of the things I want, as in sacrifices I’m making to gain things I want that are of greater value to me. Like living in SoCal despite the cost of living. It’s been the best thing for me lately.

  19. Kiri Close says:

    I also think having true, good, honest gal-palz around consistently helps us realize this ‘moment’ this post speaks of.

    Galz, we need each other.

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