Women and Happiness Part 3 — That Insatiable Want

I wonder if, at the center of a woman’s unhappiness, there isn’t an insatiable Want: to be accepted, to be known, to be loved.

In fairness, I don’t think this is exclusively a “woman” problem.  I’m certain men experience similar longings.  More likely, this is a human problem — perhaps among the most fundamental of our uniquely human urges.  But I’ve never been a man, so I can only speak to my experience as a woman; and from what I’ve observed both in my own life and in my interaction with other women, it seems to be a core component of our collective discontent.

We seek to fill the Want in a variety of ways: relationships, hobbies, careers, motherhood, sex, power, chemicals, causes, shopping, interpersonal drama, food, entertainment.

Depending on the fill, it might work for a while — some more convincingly than others.  The stomach-tingling excitement of new romance has filled me for weeks, even months.  A good conversation for a day.  A Jack-in-the-Box chocolate shake for a solid half-hour.

Eventually, though, the satiation fades and the Want returns — often much stronger than before.

The next step is to suppress it.  I’m sure I’ve told myself literally thousands of times: “It isn’t right to want that.  You shouldn’t feel so lonely or unsatisfied or needy.  Just ignore the pain and focus on your duties.”

The end result is that the Want rules you, so that one minute you’re feeding it and the next minute you’re starving it, but no matter what you do, you never eliminate it — not quite.

For a long time I regarded the Want as the enemy, that deep, desperate part of me that embarrassed me whenever someone caught a glimpse of it, or  prevented me from ever feeling truly content with who I am.

But recently I had another thought:

What if the Want is there…by design?

What if God Himself put it there, because He knew it was the only way He would get me to turn to Him?  That when I finally realized that everything else I’d attempted — the relationships, the “stuff,” the achievements, the paychecks — could never fill me in a lasting and meaningful way…

…I would finally give Him a try?

Perhaps the Want is my soul crying out, reminding me that I was not built for this world, but for Another — that I have a spark of divinity within me, and that as a result I can never be fully satisfied by another person, object, or activity this side of heaven.

What if the Want is my longing for home?

When I think of it this way, a third option emerges: I don’t have to fill it or suppress it. I can sit with it.  Accept it.  Let it be.  Becuase it’s not the enemy; it’s a gift.  A poignant reminder of who I really am.

What’s more, permitting the Want to exist without resistance, without fear, has a profound impact on the way I relate to my day-to-day duties, relationships, and passions.  No longer must I struggle so hard to make them the “solution” to my emptiness.  Instead, I can engage them on their own terms and for their own sake. I enjoy what I do and the people I do it with, not because I’m trying to eliminate pain, but because I recognize this simple truth: all these things are graces.

The result is less disappointment, panic, and shame — and more charity, loyalty, and radical acceptance of life just the way it is.

My favorite band, The Avett Brothers, has a gorgeous song about this very topic.  I hope you enjoy it (the video [NOT produced by them] is a little corny, but the music is to die for):

What about you?  Have you noticed the Want?   Do you agree that it impacts men as well as women?  What do you think about the idea that it is God-given, and not an indication that there’s something “wrong” with you?  Any other thoughts or insights on this topic?

This post is one in a series.  Get the rest of the series here.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on October 10, 2010, in Mental Health, Personal, Thoughts on God, Women and Happiness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I know the want very well, I think we all experience it to varying degrees, men, women, young, and old alike.
    I recall thinking along the same lines, particularly in my elate teens/early 20’s, questioning whether or not we should attempt to avoid it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or satiate the desire, need, etc. After many trial and errors experiences of all the above I contemplated the level of involvement of God in relation to this grand struggle.

    My final resolution with this is that it is influenced by God, that he provides us with as many challenges as he knows we can handle to help maximize our learning experience while on this earth. I moved away from the idea that something was wrong with me and embraced a more holistic view that the ‘Want’ exists for a purpose.

    We must learn to overcome the things that challenge us; whether it is a small want or a major one that can present to the degree of addiction (such as wanting to achieve perfection in something). I believe that ‘the Want’ gives us a deeper level of insight to ourselves in terms of how we think the world sees us, how we see ourselves, and how we want the world to see/experience us.
    We are not alone with this, everyone struggles with the want and have various levels of abilities to respond to it. It is all around us, at all times. My feedback would be to learn to recognize it, accept it for what it is, and learn to embrace it within ourselves-noting the holistic component that it impacts every area of our life, meaning we need to address it at every level.
    My recommendation for this would be to practice ‘mindfulness’ in an attempt to not satiate but acknowledge the want and take it for what it is. i.e the milkshake-savoring the moment, the flavor, and what need it meets. interpersonal relationships-recognizing the strengths of others (why we seek them out), appreciating what need(s) are met through interaction with others, and simply enjoying the moments with those around us when we have them.
    I hope that made sense to readers. This is a great topic to open for discussion! It will be interesting to see the various perspectives on this and levels of insight with regard to the ‘want’ and how we approach it.

  2. I think that people have varying levels of contentment. I have felt the want, but I have to say I don’t feel it very often. People are different from each other. That being said, as I child I was almost consumed by the want. Maybe learning to deal with it as a 5th grader has made it less significant in my life. I accept myself and I love myself. (For real, I think I’m awesome, and I love to smile at my reflection.) Perhaps I am an anomaly, but I’m ok with that. I don’t totally know myself, but I’m ok with that too.
    I also don’t have a lot of opportunity to be rejected these days. (and I an VERY ok with that! =) My children sometimes think that what I cook is gross or don’t want my help with what they are doing. Other than that if people have a problem with me they usually don’t tell me about it. So life circumstances may be a big part of it.

    I love that you wrote this Katie. It really made me think and I think it helped me to understand humanity a little bit better. You’re amazing. Keep it up. =)

  3. Maria, I love what you say about embracing the want as a holistic part of our lives. I really can’t express the difference this single concept has made in my life: for years, literally years, I figured there was “something wrong with me” because I struggled with feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction. And that, of course, made it worse, because I was restless and desperate to find the “cure.”

    Accepting that there is no cure, and that there shouldn’t be a cure, has allowed me to let go of a lot anxiety and expectations — which, interestingly, has reduced the want more than any of my frantic attempts to fill it.

    I also appreciate that you brought up mindfulness; you first introduced it to me over the summer, and it’s really, really helped me. I now try to incorporate both formal and informal mindfulness / prayer / meditation practices in my daily life.

    For those who are curious or might find it useful, mindfulness is:

    a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is

    Here’s more information about it at Wikipedia. Here’s a book I read recently on the topic that was profoundly helpful to me.

    Anyway, good stuff Maria. Thanks as always for your contribution. 🙂

  4. Jo, it’s interesting to me that you dealt with, and worked through, the want so young. Do you feel as though you really found a way to handle it as a child, or has it been a process that’s extended into adulthood as well?

    Also, if I recall correctly you’re in a more agnostic camp in terms of your belief in God (please correct me if I’m wrong): I wonder how you would relate to the ideas I shared about the want being a divinely-given aspect of our humanity? I expect you wouldn’t describe it that way; what might you call it or what might you attribute it to?

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