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Humans: What Do We Really Want?

Updated on February 28, 2015

Realizing What You Want

Since you were a child, you can probably remember when you went to Toys ‘R’ Us with your parents, saw the most amazing toy you wanted and stomped your feet, begged and possibly cried until your parents gave in to your annoyance and bought you that toy. Now, at the age you are, how much do you want that toy? I’m guessing most, if not all of you do not care for that toy anymore. To you, that toy does not exist anymore. The point I’m making is that people do not understand their own wants. Wanting isn’t as simple as it may seem, it is definitely more complicated than what people make it out to be because of two simple words; Greed and temptation. The definition of greed is basically wanting more of something because having a little of it is not enough; it isn’t satisfying. I can understand that, but when you’re greedy, it contradicts what you want. To want is setting a goal that of which you’d like to attain and if you’re greedy or unappreciative, then what you have set in your mind to have won’t be satisfying and therefore, unwanted. It’s probable that in the moment you may want it, but in the case of long-term, then you do not. That’s why the example of being a child going to Toys ‘R’ Us was brought up. Now, I will tell you what you actually mean when you say, “I want it.” It really means that you like something. There’s nothing wrong with liking something compared to wanting it but know the difference. It’s okay if you’re unsure of the difference, that’s why I’m here to try to explain…

Like & Want: Know the Difference

People aren’t necessarily lying when they say, “I like that,” however, what they like may not be what they seem to actually like. Here’s why: liking something is an impulsive decision. It consists of taking a piece of information, weighing out the good from the bad and making the assessment of whether it is something you like or do not like. That does not mean you want it, your brain has just determined and has created a bias in order to ignore the bad and divulge into learning more about the good so you eventually want it. This is known as, "confirmation bias."

To like is when you feel glad about something and you are dissatisfied with your level of happiness and would prefer more. So you mustn’t confuse the two words: like and want because they are similar but could not be more different.

To want, in the deeper meaning of things is when you have found the emotion you are pursuing and are interested in having it and you will not stop until you have reached that emotion. The object or status is worthless and meaningless, your emotion and feelings are what matter most. In the philosophy of things, we all want to be happy. That’s the final result. So, to find the best level of happiness, we think we have to create it with the use of objects. That’s false. If we control our emotions, we control when we are happy, sad or angry.

There is no doubting that you want, but you may not understand what you really want. Consciously, you’re making the conclusion that something you find appealing is worth having. An appeal is only temporary; it never lasts, mainly because you do not know enough about it. Unconsciously, you actually want to learn how to be happier instead of wanting the entirety of whatever it is you want. You wanting to learn are good things because you’re interested and that interest is pushing you forward to help you understand your own feelings better. Wanting may seem relative but it’s not.

The Psychology of Want

For many people, to want is all a matter of operant conditioning. Positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. For those who don’t know, positive reinforcement is a method to teach someone to behave well and you will be rewarded with something good. Negative reinforcement is similarly the same thing, except you take away something someone does not want. For example: a chore that your son/daughter has to do. Punishment is simply adding to negative consequence for a bad behaviour to scare the person or animal to avoid the punishment so they don’t something bad again. Anyway, back to the point, the point is that there is an emotion involved with behaviour. Depending on the circumstance, there will be a reaction leading to a feeling, an emotion. Like Albert Einstein said, “with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Or the way everyone understands it, “E=mc2.” But they have it wrong! An emotion is controlled by you. No one can control your feelings, you can be influenced to feel a certain way but never forced to feel anything you don’t want to.

Another example is if someone hits you, you may feel compelled to hit back out of revenge or anger or sadness, because you want to improve your level of happiness. The problem isn’t the person who you got hit by it’s your reasoning, your logic and your emotional control.

The person who hit you (for whatever reason) is actually trying to help you understand something. The key word being help! They want you to be able to relate to their pain so you understand how awful it is and how you don't want to get to that level of unhappiness but ironically trying to put you there so you know never to go back.

Unfortunately, this isn't a really effective way of teaching someone about how to understand how to be happier, but it's a commonly used method. But you do not need to relate to understand! You can understand in different ways. The problem is that the "hitter" wants to ensure themselves that you understand happiness by first going through pain.

The Psychology of Want (Continued)

What you want is not the materialistic part of something, it is the emotion that gets influenced by that materialistic object or as previously mentioned a person as well. The fact is, you’re adding to your delusion that it’s because of an object or other person and not because of you.

As we grow up we learn to how to control our emotions and our impulsiveness better and better. In this section, I will be explaining the typical behavior of a child to an adult and how much control we have of what we like and want.

At this stage of life, adolescence lacks a lot of control because of their frontal cortex not being developed at this point in their life. That part of our brains control logic and impulse. Since it is not developed, a child will most likely nag, whine and complain to get what they think they want right away when in reality they have no idea what they want. They only see what they like. They really enjoy immediate gratification. Obviously as adults, this would be socially-unacceptable, that’s why parents work together to help the child understand this cannot happen all the time and over time, the child will learn this and learn to control their impulsive behavior. They do not understand what they want, and only partially understand what they like.

When I say ‘pre-teen’ I mean from the age of 10-13 years of age. At this age, the person is better well-mannered than in the adolescent years and they begin to learn how to cope with not getting what they like right away. They somewhat understand they cannot get whatever it is they like and must wait and have some patience in order to get it. The emotional control is also better but it isn’t great. They still can act out, and typically do. For pre-teens, they understand more of what they like, but are still figuring out what they want. However, with the temptation of remaining an adolescent, they are figuring who they are and have distractions often that overpower their drive to find what they want.

Teenagers are people who are approximately 14-20 years of age. Teenagers, more or less have a firm sense of knowing to wait to get what they want, but they let temptation get the better of them sometimes and it happens that they act impulsively. At times, just as impulsive as a pre-teen. Teenagers also have a misunderstanding of what they want. Their frontal cortex is under development around this time of life therefore, there is some control and logical reasoning to know how to be patient and control your impulses and moods but it’s still difficult. They still only understand what they like and haven’t had enough time to realize what they want.

Adults are in the age group of 21 and over. Even adults have their moments of impulse and immaturity but they usually have the best understanding of like and want. They might not know what they want, but they more often than not tell you what they like. What they want is more complicated. Adults can still be figuring out what they want, while doing what they like. Teenagers sort of do the same by being in school and having hobbies they enjoy doing so they may someday encounter a hobby they’d want to have and will enjoy doing. Adults have jobs (usually) and are focusing on improving themselves using their skill at the job they are working at. Even when you get to adulthood, it's still undetermined whether or not you know what you want.

Here are a few simple equations: Knowledge + experience - ignorance = wisdom
Wisdom + experience = happiness
Self-realization + experience = ultimate happiness

Hierarchy of Needs



My personal theory would be understanding our purpose for living, for being on Earth and you will find the ultimate happiness because you'll understand how to achieve it. That's why I mentioned in one of my equations "self-realization" to teach you that once you understand yourself you will understand your own happiness and how to become truly happy.

As shown above, Abraham Maslow created a theory of a personal hierarchy of needs. Although, I agree with Maslow, I still believe it is subjective to one's knowledge. I won't get there because that is a different philosophical topic for another day. His goal was to show others that once we self-actualize we will find our purpose and that knowledge will give us the hope we need to be happy. As ignorant as human beings are though, we aren't ready, in my opinion. In his, he believed it is possible but only the greatest of people can achieve the peak of the hierarchy.


People look for the emotion within the object or status instead of feeling it in themselves. The reason why this happens is because it is evidently justified and with an influence, that influence will motivate and heighten a certain mood and therefore, creating a false sense of want. They want to pursue a feeling that literally does not exist from the object or status they have obtained.

To understand what you want, you will need to understand yourself and eventually, you will understand your happiness. That happiness will help you visualize and realize what you could not imagine was possible into something that is an inevitable. Even if you don't achieve true happiness in this lifetime, you are helping mankind find a way to achieve it!



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    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      Excellent post


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