Desires and Pursuits
Stoics discerned between two types of desire:
- natural desires, e.g. sleep, hunger, thirst
- unnatural desires, e.g. greed for money, obsession for sex or external validation
The main difference between both types of desires is that the natural desires are easy to satisfy - drink, and you won’t be thristy anymore. They have been created in order for us to keep in mind those absolute needs we need to survive.
On the other hand, unnatural desires have no limits, and can’t be fulfilled.
They call for moderation.
Note the difference between moderation and indifference.
It’s also a worthy exercise to ask oneself and to pounder about the definition of “preferred indifferents”.
- this preferred indifferents apply to all those unnatural desires
The definition of preferred indifferents allows us to expand our definition of moderation to include things out of our control, such as health or lifespan.
- it would be unrealistic to set up an expectation of a life of indifference, for it’s against our natural, rational behaviour to force pain and suffering without need
However, one should be particulary cautious with our preferences, and we should regularly question our desires in order to exert moderation.
Moderation allows us to enjoy those preferred indifferents in a safe environment, much like speed limits keep a check on our “need for speed”. Take moderation as a nudge, a reminder not to stray too far from nature.
When reflecting on most of the desires and thirsts of a 20-somethings 21st century citizen, it’s safe to assume that we really could do with much, much less. And, however, we still decide to enslave ourselves to material (or superficial) matters, for which we have no control, and for which we get very little from.
You could argue - why should I give up the satisfaction / pleasure I get from this very same externals? Doesn’t this enjoyment justify the risks of their pursuit?
To this, stoics also had a reply for. They would have said to you to stop and reflect on that enjoyment. How long did it last for? Are you able to stay satisfied for much longer after getting it? Or do you become a slave to this very same feeling, making your life a struggle for the next “high”? What happens if you can’t get it - will you be able to shrug it off and get on with your day? Or will it fundamentaly affect your content with life?
- the examples in this regard are endless - from people who have a bad day after their beloved football team, to those who lose their temper when their favorite restaurant won’t deliver at that very same time, or having to wait on a red light (unfortunately, me).
But, is it rational to live like this? For your happiness / content to depend upon things you have absolutely no control of? Isn’t this like lending your house keys to a random stranger on the streets, and trusting them to respect your property?
I think it’s fair to say many of us have never put limits to our desires, and more importantly, our expectations. We feel entitled for so, so many things, I would have no time to list them all. But, are we able to be honest with ourselves and answer the question: why do I deserve this? Why do I have a feeling that I must receive this or that; that my plans have to succeed. Who are we to expect this? What great sacrifices are we making for all of this to be granted to us? Why are more important than anyone alse around us? Doesn’t everyone have desires and expectations?
But, more importantly - what if all our expectations and desires would be granted for us. Doesn’t the very definition of this unnatural desires / needs deem them unsatisfiable? Don’t we realize that we would just set the bar higher and higher the more and more we get? Don’t we realize we would be wishing for a curse? For isn’t the richest not he whom has the most, but he whom is able to enjoy what he has? Assuming that riches are the cure for our poverty is the ultimate indicator of our sickness; we’re not phisically sick, but we’re worse of - our internal compass is broken. We’re lost in our very own forest, trying to find our way back to the trails using our compass as our guide, only to find ourselves wandering around in circles. Unless we fix our compass, we will be lost forever. And who knows what dangers the forest is hiding for us? Will we be lucky enough to endure them? And if so, will we ever find our way back to the trail, nature’s path, or will we be forever lost?