When we cross the line from desire to obsession life becomes dangerous. The question is “How do we know when we’re about to cross the line?” Before we attempt to answer that question, allow me to share some background on how this topic came about.
There’s little doubt that life in the United States today is fraught with strife and anxiety. In his book, Why We Did It (opens in a new link), Tim Miller (opens in a new link) shares his perspective on how some of this came about…including what he feels his contribution was.
While Mr. Miller’s book offers insights on a macro scale, crossing the line from desire to obsession is something that can occur for any of us at any time. To help us avoid crossing the line, let’s contrast desire and obsession.
To me, desire is an essential element of joy along with contentment. In my experience, living joyfully is a combination of being content with the life I’ve created for myself while continuously striving for what I desire.
Contentment enables me to appreciate what I have, while desire keeps me interested in what’s next. It’s this combination that caused one individual to ask me whether I’d had plastic surgery to permanently etch a big smile on my face. The short answer is no; no surgery, just the good fortune to appreciate both contentment and desire.
Desire is healthy as long as it does’t become a need. Occasionally I’m asked what I need. My response is “I don’t need anything. I desire many things.” When desire becomes need, we lose contentment. We suddenly forget all the good that we’ve experienced. The only thing we can think about is how badly we need [whatever].
Our natural tendency, when we experience need, is to press harder to get what we feel we need. In doing so, our minds are so overcome with the urgency of our need that we diminish our mental capacity. Need is an emotional state and, like all emotional states, creates a bias that closes our minds to the broader array of solutions that exists. That’s what I mean when I say that we diminish our mental capacity.
When we realize that we are in an emotional state of need and pause, the emotion abates and our full mental capacity returns instantly.
Now, let’s consider obsession.
If we continue to nurture our “need,” the urgency and importance of satisfying that need grows to the point that we consider doing things that are contrary to our values and beliefs up to and including illegal and immoral activities.
We’ll lie, cheat, steal and possibly do bodily harm to those whom we perceive as standing in the way of what we “need.” While many of us cannot imagine going this far, all we need to do is turn on the news to see the results of the behaviors of others who probably had felt the same way at some earlier point in their lives. People about whom their neighbors say “I would never have thought them capable of such behavior.”
Obsession is insidious. It begins as desire, migrates to need and, ultimately, obsession.
How can you avoid falling victim to obsession? How can you avoid crossing the line?
When you hear yourself saying that you need something, remind yourself that you’re about to cross a line that could lead to obsession. Remind yourself that while you don’t need anything, there are things that you desire.
Also recall that desire heightens joyful living while need diminishes joy. A good way to avoid developing a need is to remind yourself, each morning shortly before rising and each evening shortly before retiring, that desire enhances joy, need diminishes it.
For our kids
When your child says “I need…,” ask them “Do you need it? Or do you want it?” These simple questions will quickly get them to understand the difference between want and need. You can then elaborate on that distinction. Better yet, share the mantra: desire enhances joy, need diminishes it. Your kids will thank you.
Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts and experiences in a comment.
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Dale, As always, your insights are thought provoking. We only need to pay attention to the 2022 and the 2024 election cycles to witness first-hand the price tag in America when we blatantly allow desire to become obsession.
I couldn’t agree more, Bill. Tim Miller’s book is the most honest assessment I’ve seen on how easy it is to fall into the obsession trap. I highly recommend its reading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bill.
This is a perfect analysis of why many marriages end in divorce. One partner loses sight of what the other got married for, whether it was emotional or physical or otherwise, then deny their lack of awareness is the problem. I speak from experience.
If a kid wants a cookie and is flat out denied without explanation, he might decide he actually needs the cookie and sneak around while the family is asleep and climb drawer fronts to get to the cookie jar. Again, I speak from experience.
Michael, great examples of how we are all susceptible to moving from desire to obsession in our daily lives. Thanks so much for sharing these examples. Readers will benefit from them.