how to get free of the trap of miswanting ( + find your life)



I used to shop at Neiman Marcus (known to some as Needless Markup). If you’ve ever wondered who the hell would pay a couple of thousand dollars for a pair of suede thigh-high Christian Louboutin boots, that younger me would have had to sheepishly raise her hand.

I shopped because I had a legitimate need to put clothes on my body, but also because I bought into all that Sex-and-the-City, retail-therapy crap.

I shopped to feel better.


One day I stood in my closet and no longer saw fabulosity — but money that could have gone to Apple stock, or building a girls’ school in Cambodia. “If you ever see me going down this path again,” I said to my assistant, “please shoot me.” She agreed.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that there is a difference between a want and a yearning. When we confuse the two, as we often do, we engage in something that positive psychologists call miswanting. Even when we get what we think we want (the new Gucci bag, the promotion at work, the hot guy/girl, the trip to Fiji) we’re still dissatisfied, because of a deeper yearning that remains unmet.

Wants are for specific things (a new dress, a meal at Per Se, a date with Ryan Gosling), but yearnings are deep and universal. As Dr. Wright points out in her book TRANSFORMED!, we all yearn for the same things. These are

To matter
To love and be loved
To be seen
To contribute
To connect
To belong
To achieve mastery
To be affirmed
To connect with the Creator/a higher power/nature/the divine

Wants and yearnings activate different parts of the brain. When we anticipate or indulge our wants, the brain releases dopamine to give us that fun, addictive buzz. But it’s only when we meet our deeper needs – our yearnings – that the brain releases opiods, which provide the deep full feelings of soul-satisfaction that can actually sustain us.

We yearn to feed our soul.

But it’s so easy to confuse stimulation with satisfaction …and chase that dopamine high…and plunge into a spiral of wanting, wanting, wanting, without ever experiencing the fulfillment that only the opiate-generating part of the brain can give us.

When we try to fulfill our yearnings with surface wants, we fail.

So we start to miswant something else – or find ways to escape, or numb out – except none of this works either.

It’s like trying to live off cotton candy, while telling ourselves that it’s a healthy and nourishing meal.

Eventually we sicken and spiritually die.

In the end, shopping never did that much for me. After the buzz of a new purchase disappeared (within hours), I was right back where I started, except with less money in the bank and more clutter in my closet. I ended up giving away or donating a lot of the clothes. (I kept the boots.)

Once I started connecting with what I truly yearned for (and it’s an ongoing process), my compulsion to shop slowly faded. I haven’t stepped inside Neiman Marcus in years. The thought of the place gives me a bleak, knotted feeling in my chest, because I associate it (and shopping in general) with an unhappy time in my life.

We live in a consumerist culture of anxiety marketing that rips open little holes in our psyche: to keep us insecure and offbalance, to put us into states of distress so that the marketers can swoop in and pretend-rescue us with their products. Even the most fortunate of us will live high on pleasure and low on soul-satisfaction: we crash, and the cycle repeats itself, and the culture carries on. It takes effort in the face of constant temptation to tune out the clamor of wants and false promises. It takes skill – and it is a skill – to tune into your deeper self, and live day-to-day with the awareness and engagement that she requires.

I understand, now, why I can meet people who have everything – jetset lifestyles, dinners with movie stars, thrilling careers – and still get moody or depressed (and go on anti-depressants); or how the man on his fourth trophy wife and the woman going yet again to the plastic surgeon to try to be, or remain, or compete with the trophy wife are easy to mock but, in the end, simply trying to love and be loved, to be seen, to belong. Aren’t we all? We use the tools and the knowledge that this culture gives us. They don’t work. We try again.

The good news is that at any given moment you can start asking yourself the questions –

Why do I really want those $250 jeans?

Because they make me feel cool and my ass looks great in them.

Why do I care about that?

Because I want to be hip and sexy.

Why do I want to be hip and sexy?

Because I want people to notice me.

Why do I want people to notice me?

Because I want to know that I matter.

— that peel back the onion layers of wanting until you get to the yearning at the core. You know you’ve found the yearning when there are no more Whys to ask, no more layers.

Why do I want so badly to publish my novel?

Because I want to be successful.

Why do I want to be successful?

Because I want people to listen to me.

Why do I want people to listen to me?

Because I want to have something to say.

Why do I want to have something to say?

Because I want to contribute.

When you connect with that yearning, you can think of a way right then and there to fulfill it. Instead of spending money you don’t have on jeans you don’t need, you might call that friend you’ve been thinking about but haven’t talked to in months. Instead of obsessing over whether your editor is reading your manuscript, you might volunteer to feed the homeless, or go above and beyond at work (and surprise the hell out of your boss), or speak out on an issue that’s important to you by writing a letter to an editor or perhaps a blog (ahem).

This is the cool thing: as you identify your yearnings and find ways to move toward them, you become more and more of who you really are.

Because it’s not about fixing yourself, or trying to improve yourself.

It’s about discovering who you truly are in the first place. click to tweet

Carl Jung refers to a process called individuation, which is the process of claiming and reclaiming the different parts of yourself to become whole. This happens when you move away from the collective belief systems we’ve all absorbed – from our families, our various subcultures, the culture at large – and start walking a path that’s unique and true to you. To follow this path is to go beyond your cravings (which are wants-generated) and pay attention to your urges (which are yearnings-generated); to listen to the “still small voice” that knows what you need and how to slowly but steadily get there.

This is when you begin to find your destiny.

Otherwise known as living an authentic life.

Aug 2, 2013

14 comments · Add Yours

Awesome post, and I been there, done that!

(And here I thought I wasn’t learning as much any more from my Facebook friend feed!)

Thank you. I’ve joined the badasses.


Awesome and wise. An avid (former) fan of retail therapy, I have to daily remind myself to – ‘Consume less and create more. To consume requires no risk; creation is all risk.’ (Somebody else wise sad that, but I can’t remember who.)


Ahhh… this is a good one.
But… I see one issue….only because I’ve experienced something similar…
After getting divorced, I remember looking with tears in my eyes at my 25 pairs of Valentino heels, custom bustiers, Helmut Lang black leather pants, Pucci Skirts and dresses and of course like you… Custom Made Boots I got in Paris….

I remember I said to myself.. “How stupid was I?” to buy all that shit that is.

The good news is that I learned my lesson…. I was able to go through the process of being the little girl who comes from nothing, dreamed of big somethings, marries rich guy, buys a bunch of expensive shit she dreamed about her whole life, gets divorced because frankly he’s an asshole and abusive, and leaves the little girl who used to dream of expensive stuff so she could be like the models in the magazines who were not only pretty, but looked so happy skipping through NYC and Paris….and has the gift of knowing now that “the stuff” she used to dream about didn’t make her happy.

Ok. So I learned my lesson… now I can share with everyone else.. OR NOT…

What I’ve come to learn is that people who have never had the option, never learned that the boots or the Valentino Heels (I mean come on.. I still drool, but just couldn’t stomach no matter what my net worth spending $900 dollars on heels) don’t make you happy.

Whenever I’ve shared that the money part of life… the stuff part…..doesn’t make you happy..

Whenever I’ve shared that many a billionaire are miserable and have problems and issues too….


I would share my lessons and stories… tell them… “No really, they’re not happy and the private shopping trip at Chanel that didn’t make me happy either! I swear!”

There seems to be no breaking through and that “yeah, ok… right” attitude and look in their eyes surfaces…

So… I’ve come to terms that I’m not going to try and convince anyone anymore… and in fact wonder if those who don’t believe me are better off….the whole ignorance is bliss thing… they still have something to hold onto…that there is something better when you get there….the place in life where you can buy the stuff and take annual trips to Paris on your custom G5…..even if they don’t get there and most people won’t… the hope of that being a better place…..somewhere over the rainbow/OZ….is much sexier to one’s mind than “finding peace and love and happiness within yourself.”

After generations have been nursed on the American Dream and consumerism… “finding happiness inside yourself” frankly is a hard pill to swallow… but I’m doing it… cuz it’s the only thing left to hold on to… or not hold on to….better yet… something for me to meditate on:)


@Love Blonde I hear you on that. I’ve noticed that also: people will say that money doesn’t make you happy, and in the next breath slam wealthy people for daring to be unhappy (those spoiled ungrateful evil capitalist bastards). It’s kind of a sad irony that it’s the most privileged who learn that the only problems that money solves are money-related; and once those are gone, you’re left with the wounds and sicknesses of your soul. Those are a lot more difficult to address (even when you can afford a great shrink).

I will add, though, that I don’t think happiness is found inside you. I think that’s another myth that actually makes for unhappy people because it turns us inward rather than outward. Happiness — or better yet, well-being — happens through active engagement, deep connection, and meaningful relationship with the world, and often doesn’t seem “happy” at the time because it requires work and struggle and sacrifice and effort. You have to get your ass off the couch, open up, and take risks — and the inevitable knocks.


shared on Seers and Seekers


Strangely, Lauren Sherman of Business of Fashion has a post this morning speaking of the high price of fashion, the painful removal from any semblance of intrinsic value and the bold grabby-gimme that has invaded the fashion business. The fact that a 3500 retail bag costs 1244 to be ready to sit on a store shelf is purely greedy, marked up to the point of mockery. But of course it’s not all about high prices but about the shift and worry that without the Better Thing success, happiness and peace will not be achieved.

It’s in the sandbox, that challenging worry of who and what is better and it never goes away. Pushed down as little children begin the tedious process of becoming civilized, as in the feeling is there but do not show it, oh pretty smiles and vacant eyes and lonely twitter nights.

Is there a value in a Manolo Blahnik vs an Urban Outfitters ballet flat? Well, absolutely. Manolo, unlike many of the ever–fancier, ever-grander, ever-more-expensive brands does the work and the product has intrinsic value albeit a hefty (but fair, I think) price tag. But the Urban Outfitters flat is pretty, wearable and ever so much more affordable. The 180.00 and up jeans, sigh, vs the 59.00 Urban Outfitters pair … hmmm, stepped into both kinds in the usual way.

Yearning is an absolutely pure gift, close to a state of grace. Wanting is abrupt, staccato, unthought, uncared and always a kind of an empty craving.

Cherishing a Balenciaga black mean bag from seven years ago, the one that changed my life. Choices, isn’t it all about choices?


@madeleine gallay Don’t get me wrong, I still love clothes + I’m fascinated by great personal style and compelling points of view. When it’s about the need to express yourself through a particular aesthetic, a Balenciaga bag can be a thing of wonder. :)


It’s a mixed bag of why I write and want to be published. I always wrote for free, until a few people were like, you should be paid for this. Um, paid? Paid?! I was brought up very poor, with hand-me-down clothes and handmade dresses, etc. I managed to do decent, but I had an unhappy and abusive marriage. When it ended in divorce, I lost 99% of everything. I’m finally at the point just now where my credit is moderately good again. The long and short of it is, money itself isn’t evil. Shopping isn’t evil either, although it can be a form of addiction. A quick fix to make oneself feel better. But having nothing is certainly not any better. Your points of finding the core meaning of why one does what they do was spot on. So, why do I write? In hopes that I can give back what I gained from the authors before me. To give the reader a smile, or make them laugh. To move people. To say, I did this. I was here. Remember me.


Wow, I can 100% relate to everything you have written in this post! I too was on a journey of self-destruction through shopping – it was my therapy – and no matter what I bought (and the $$ I spent) I still had this hollowness inside of me that I could never escape. It wasn’t until I had to face the rude shock of a divorce and my world turning upside down that I knew I had to dig deep within myself and face my truth. My life can’t look any more different today and while I still appreciate nice things, it has been a very long time since I have felt the need to go shopping as I’m not looking for a way to ‘fill myself up’. It is actually quite incredible the hold marketers today have over people to convince them they should buy whatever product they are selling. Marketers create “desire” and I have since worked out this effectively translates to envy – a very low energy and negative state to be in. Awesome post.


Yes and even man can feel and do the same. I once shopped very extreme in all the high fashion stores here in Munich. It thrilled me while doing it, but when I was home I felt empty again. 7.000 Bucks for a leather jacket even if from Versace, was to high a price for the thrill. Now I not earning the money anymore to able to spent it and even if I can hear the temptation whispering in my ears, I can resist it because of lack of the money. And strange but true I feel better and not bad. The real happy moments lay in the seconds when I feel connected to the universe around me. When I have understood something and realise that life is precious and a smile of a stranger in the morning is a gift of this wonderful life.
Thanks for reminding me again.


@justine musk @justine musk
“Happiness — or better yet, well-being — happens through active engagement, deep connection, and meaningful relationship with the world, and often doesn’t seem “happy” at the time because it requires work and struggle and sacrifice and effort. You have to get your ass off the couch, open up, and take risks — and the inevitable knocks.”
-Justine Musk

You are a wise woman Justine Musk.

In my search for “IT,” finding fulfillment inside….can often seem like a losing battle.
(“IT”: peace and acceptance of what is; wholeheartedly welcoming and making dinner each night for impermanence; shaping my boundaries amidst destinations unknown),

When I ask myself “what lights me up?” It’s connection, always connection.

My struggle with connection in my current state of affairs..?
Yeah those little bitches who won’t leave the building.. the knocks.

You know the ones…..the emotional scars collected in the proverbial emotional walk in closet… They are alive and well and ready to be worn by heart and spirit every single day and have continue to lead to the path of fear and resistance…

I’ve gotta donate those knocks to the Salvation Army… kick the F out of fear and move on.. not holding on so tightly to the pain of the past or the fear and knowing the cycles of life will bring me pain again on some level.

I’ve succumbed to a preference for isolation over collecting more knocks… and while I feel safe.. this place is also painful…I must remember the ride and how much fun it can be jumping off the cliff….

….but perhaps my reluctance about getting back into the game and leaving “Retreat de Isolation”…..jumping with full abandon here and now and again into life and connection…is the question my heart always asks me…

“What will there be to hold on to when we do get knocked again other than you and me because it f+cking hurts when that happens?”

Those thigh high Louboutin’s seemed an easier fix and solution…

…and now…..being fully awake and aware to the notion that a hit or line of Valentino and Pucci, those lovely inanimate objects, who will always be there for me to wear, who can make me feel so very beautiful, and do not have the capacity to really disappoint me or break my heart, are not the solutions needed to continue on my path for peace and acceptance of what is….

Thank you for sharing again… your wisdom is beautiful and of service for those who are awake now and on the path to absolute truth and love.


I think middle class is the way to go :)


why do you still go by your ex-husband’s last name?


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