To get what we want in life, we must first know who we are.
More specifically, we must know what drives us. Philosophers, prophets, and psychologists have been asking this question throughout the ages, and the answers have widely varied.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud believed our fundamental motivation to be what he referred to as “the pleasure principle.”: the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain. This speaks to Freud’s notion that sexual desire pervades all movement through life, determining our actions more than any other impulse.
Adlerian psychology, on the other hand, centers around Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea, proclaiming there a “will to power,” which says that superiority is our deepest desire. That, more than anything, we want to be better than other people.
These ideas are powerful and certainly speak to certain underlying truths of the human condition, but none quite float my boat.
Maybe I’m alone here, but I don’t believe sexual desire or superiority encompass the entirety of the human experience. It certainly doesn’t feel that way to me.
What do I believe we want more than anything? What do we desire more than money or sex?
This is something I’ve had to think a lot about over the past few years. Through my bouts of severe chronic illness, I’ve found myself incapable of pursuing the things most people my age are pursuing. Careers, social lives, relationships. These opportunities are not available to me anymore, and because of this, I’m forced to look much more deeply into myself to come up with a sustainable way to live.
When we take away the drive toward sex and power, what is left?
This is simple. The will for meaning; a striving toward living a meaningful life.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist, sums this up quite well:
“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a secondary rationalization of instinctual drives. The meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are nothing but defense mechanisms and reaction formations. But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my defense mechanisms, nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my reaction formations. Man, however, is able to live and die for the sake of his ideals and values!”
What we seek most deeply is meaning, because meaning is the only thing that makes suffering worth enduring.
When we truly suffer, the pursuit of sex or power cannot quench our existential thirst for long. Eventually, we need something more—something that speaks to our fundamental nature as human being. Something that allows us to go on loving in spite of whatever we are dealing with.
If we all chose to pursue the most meaningful life for ourselves, rather than mindless pleasures or hedonistic appetites, the world would perhaps be much kinder of a place.
Author: Samuel Kronen
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Editor: Danielle Beutell
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