Satisfaction is the death of desire

The other day I was lounging around looking at my iTunes collection. I spotted a song called "Satisfaction is the death of desire" by Slowreader. The song itself is mostly indie emo noise, fitting for a rainy Sunday filler but really isn't anything to write home about. The song title, however, caught my brain. I began to recall the one time in 4th grade when I was head-over-heel lusting after a little green bicycle. In an attempt to disuade me from said lust my economist dad said that I am the kind of person who enjoys the chase more than the acquisition. This meant that my emotional drama, the draw, the desire (if you will), existed only in the stage of "wanting". That once that stage progresses over to "having", I will no longer desire it. Given this hypothesis, it wasn't worth it for dad to purchase the bike for me. He said that I probably enjoy wanting the bike more than having the bike. He was doing me a huge favor by keeping me at the height of enjoyment.

I was in 4th grade. Naturally, this made no sense. Though I was smart enough to know the conclusion of his hypothesis would result in no bike. Via perseverance and other devilish means I managed to get that bike anyway. Even after the acquisition dad's observation didn't really leave my mind. I was curious to learn whether he was right -- do I really enjoy wanting more than having. The conclusion was luke warm at best. I enjoyed the bike just fine when I wasn't falling face first or running myself into stationary objects and gashing my body parts. In the end the little green bike taught me to be introspective about my wants and how I am with those objects or things after having acquired them.

Over time I come to notice an element of truth in dad's early observation. This unfortunately plays out most prominently in my romantic relationships. An all time repeatable failure in this department I often times ask myself plainly and simply: WTF. The statement "satisfaction is the death of desire" seems to appropriately describe the pattern. Very much like wanting that bike. Once I have it, it's kinda like eh.. yea, it's there. I can play with it whenever I want... etc. Heartless? That's one way to put it.

It is no wonder why I am a horrible failure at this. In an attempt to break away from this rather bad habit I needed to logically understand the sociological explanation to my behavior. Not only that, I needed to be able to convince myself that it's not true and have some kind of pragmatic backing. Otherwise my brain will just pull in auto-mode and repeat the same pattern again. And I really need to fix this.

To understand statements like "Satisfaction is the death of desire" from a sociological point of view isn't as straightforward. It mostly is a conversation one would have with maybe a shrink or a professor/counselor and I have access to neither. Luckily I had been brain-stalking a super smart strategist who specializes in the wonderfully curious space between rational and irrational thinking in human decision making process. He was the perfect person to help me rationalize my irrational behavior, so to speak. Thanks to twitter I was able to easily reach him. 

Thanks to him, everything suddenly made sense. This is his response:


@thaniya re: "satisfaction is the death of desire": desires are misleading; our concept of desire doesn't account for the concept of passing time. That is to say, satisfying what we desire in the short run doesn't necessarily satisfy what we desire in the long run. I tend to think of this along the lines of Phillip Zimbardo's idea of time-perspective.

Potentially, the statement could be talking about 'desire' as fundamentally short-term. This comes to mind because I tend to think and talk about the above paragraph using the term 'want' instead of 'desire.' 'Want' seems to capture something more long-term, and might not actually be what the statement is trying to talk about. Not sure. 

At any rate I think it's ultimately most useful to think about satisfaction in terms of a third thing, 'value.' As a person trying to reach satisfaction, what I 'value' seems to be far more important than both what I desire and what I want.

(And then there's the trickier subject of "how valuable is satisfaction?" To the extent that 'satisfaction' reflects an unchanging, copasetic state, perhaps it's not ultimately valuable to be satisfied?)


He brings up 2 items that I had never thought of before in rationalizing this statement: 

1. That desire is fundamentally short-term (present-focus would be the term referred to in Philip Zimbardo's study of how one makes decision according to time paradigm); If I focus less on the immediate things (oh, like desires) and more on the future things (like wants), I'll actually be more satisfied at the end.

2. Satisfaction should better correlate with what I "value". This thought process help rationalize the little green bike scenario better. It is true that I desired the bike. Once acquired, I was satisfied with the bike -- not because of the act of acquisition alone (though admittedly that did come into play), but that the bike provided me with fun times I actually value. 

As such, the statement "Satisfaction is the death of desire" becomes false. One does not kill the other. So long as I continue to value the things I've desired and acquired, I will remain satisfied.

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On the subject of "How valuable is satisfaction?" -- Tricky indeed. This question reminds me of a wise man's words from the past: "Do you know what every woman wants?" .. "More". Satisfaction implies a non changing state of being. It begs the question also of sustaining happiness. Many studies have shown that happiness is not sustainable through mere satisfaction. It fizzes out over time and you'll have to do something else do keep that happy going. If satisfaction alone cannot bring happiness, then how is it valuable? Perhaps in the present-focused view it is valuable. In the future-focused view, growth probably comes into play.

Interesting food for thoughts.
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