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A Deeper “Why?”

Jung, in The Red Book, says: “You find yourself in your desire, so do not say that desire is vain.” He is right: desire isn’t just vain, desire is informative.
I often ask my clients: “Why did you go into the professional field that you are in – why are you a teacher, a therapist, a mechanic, why are you in business, in art, in science?” The common, first-order answer, which I have to more or less dismiss (because it really says nothing) is that: “Well, that’s what I like to do. That’s what I wanted to do.” As you see, this answer is a rhetorical place holder, it really says nothing – all we learn is the self-evident, that the person has freely chosen to do what he or she has chosen to do. The real question, the one that is still unanswered is: “Why have you chosen to do this?”
Crystallized even further, the question becomes: “What does your desire say about you? What does this choice satisfy in you?”
Why we want what we want – if understood deeply – teaches us about who we are and how we conceptualize ourselves. So, yes, desire teaches us about ourselves. But what teaches us even more ourselves is our eventual insatiability. When you live long enough, and if reality cooperates with you enough, you get to a place in life when you have played out most of your fantasies. You get to a place where you either no longer want what you wanted (even if you didn’t really get to fully satisfy those desires) – you sort of burn out of old desires. Or you get to a place of desensitization – a place where you have had most of your desires satisfied to a reasonable degree and your desires sort of dried out. One way or another you get to this place of insatiability or dissatisfaction – to a place where the old desires no longer drive you and the new desires no longer hold your interest long enough. You toy with various projects but deep inside you know that none of that will be enough.
At this point, there are two paths: a path of chasing and a path of acceptance. Perfectionists keep on striving for more (despite the ever diminishing returns) and keep on fighting dissatisfaction, chasing crumbs and morsels and moments of fleeting satisfaction. Acceptionists (the ones that choose to accept the fundamentally unsatisfying nature of existence, what Buddhists call chronic, restless “thirst” of living or “tanha”) give up striving and settle down, accepting insatiability, accepting the inevitability of dissatisfaction.
Satisfaction teaches us about our false selves. Ask yourself: “Why do I want what I want? What does this satisfy in me?” And the answer is typically something that got programmed into you. You want money, for example, because you have learned that money is power or money is freedom. Or you want success or notoriety, for example, because you have learned that success and notoriety gets you approval and or attention which you translate into some kind of sense of worth. Satisfaction only teaches us about the programming that we internalized.
Dissatisfaction teaches us about something much deeper. Dissatisfaction – paradoxically – teaches us about our self-sufficiency, about our innate completeness. When you accept the inevitability of your dissatisfaction, when you accept your insatiability, you in essence accept that the satisfaction of desire can never make you whole or complete. And that teaches you that you already are complete and whole. How so? Because even when perpetually dissatisfied, you still are, you still exist, you still go on. Eventually you realize that satisfaction is secondary, that is trivial, that it is not essential to your existence. You realize that satisfaction comes and goes, but you – a whole onto yourself – remain somehow complete in your own suchness.
I am looking at my empty coffee cup: do I want another? Yes and no. If I satisfy my desire for another cup, I’ll keep on writing.  So I’ll pass.  Enough said.
A Deeper “Why?”

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2018). A Deeper “Why?”. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2018
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