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Is the Fulfilment of One’s Deepest Desires

an Essential Ingredient for a Happy Life?

A thing is good insofar as it is desirable.


Our desires never die; they never even slacken except in so far as all our vitality slackens and dies. We want material ease and comfort, and perhaps a little display, and we want wealth as a means of securing these; we want satisfaction of our bodily appetites, and a renewal and enlivening of our power of appetite; we want the esteem and affection of others, and their recognition of our own excellence, and the acclaim of success; we want knowledge of various sorts, and the conquest of material forces; finally we want the sense of achievement in the management of our resources, and perhaps some measure of dominion, great or small, over other men. We want all these things because they satisfy our native desires and because we believe with a pathetic faith that in the satisfaction of our desires we shall find happiness. Yet day after day harsh experience proves to us that we have not the vital force, the physical and mental and moral energy which we absolutely need to carry out our purposes and realize our desires. And even in our greatest success, there is still an element of frustration.

W. Kane, S.J. (from Paradise Hunters, 1947)

The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment.

Samuel Johnson

[After eight years of toil on the English Dictionary, during which he lost his wife, Samuel Johnson found he was no better off financially than when he began the enormous project. So when he came to write the preface to that great work he was at some pains to impress on posterity the fact that he was a disappointed man, as you may see for yourself in the following excerpts:]

It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward. Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries... I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a dictionary of the English language...and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns; yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow... I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.

Buddha proposed a way of escaping from all this recurrent sorrow; and that was simply by getting rid of the delusion that is called desire... If once a man realised that there is really no reality, that everything, including his soul, is in dissolution at every instant, he would anticipate disappointment and be intangible to change, existing (in so far as he could be said to exist) in a sort of ecstasy of indifference. The Buddhists call this beatitude and we will not pause to argue the point; certainly to us it is indistinguishable from despair. I do not see, for instance, why the disappointment of desire should not apply as much to the most benevolent desires as to the most selfish ones. Indeed the Lord of Compassion seems to pity people for living rather than for dying.

G. K. Chesterton

As the hog to the trough, so the fool to the womb.

Old Buddhist Saying

The grown-ups with whom I came in contact had a remarkable incapacity for understanding the intensity of childish emotions... On one occasion I heard one of the grown-ups saying to another “When is that young Lyon coming?” I pricked up my ears and said “Is there a lion coming?” “Yes,” they said, “he’s coming on Sunday. He’ll be quite tame and you shall see him in the drawing-room.” I counted the days till Sunday and the hours through Sunday morning. At last I was told the young lion was in the drawing-room and I could come and see him. I came. And he was an ordinary young man named Lyon. I was utterly overwhelmed by the disenchantment and still remember with anguish the depths of my despair.

Bertrand Russell

The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes.

Thomas Hardy

Thoughts on Desire & Disappointment

BOREDOM: the desire for desires.

Leo Tolstoy

It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had.

C. S. Lewis

Desire for the good is its own fulfilment.

Simone Weil

We don’t know God enough to desire Him.

Desire is the very essence of man.


When you have a fierce desire for a thing that’s within your grasp, it can be a considerable spiritual achievement to admit you don’t have a right to it, and a great one to abide by that admission.

Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy—the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.

Eric Hoffer

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.

Henry David Thoreau

Don’t consider any desire useless or wrong—someday each one will be fulfilled.

Deepak Chopra

Maybe a thing that you do not like is really in your interest. It is possible that a thing that you may desire may be against your interest.

Abu Bakr

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

E. B. White

In a world of flying loves and fading lusts
It is something to be sure of a desire.

G. K. Chesterton

I am past all serious desire for anything.

Gore Vidal

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy!

Oscar Wilde

A desire satisfied is not a desire any more, and it is a pity.

It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.

Soren Kierkegaard

Man must be disappointed with the lesser things of life before he can comprehend the full value of the greater.

Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Limited in his nature, infinite in his desire, man is a fallen god who remembers heaven.

Alphonse de Lamartine

A conflict arises within each of us from the fact that our desires are infinite, whereas our ability to realize them is strictly limited.

Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.

Robert Frost

Shaw represented the partiality of romantic love as a perversion of our deepest desire.

Michael Holroyd (biographer)

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.

Kurt Vonnegut

Some desire is necessary to keep life in motion, and he whose real wants are supplied must admit those of fancy.

Samuel Johnson

The variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire.

G. K. Chesterton

The search for an outside meaning that can compel an inner response must always be disappointed: all ‘meaning’ must be at bottom related to our primary desires, and when they are extinct no miracle can restore to the world the value which they reflected upon it.

Bertrand Russell

You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV. 4.5

The slow compromise, or even surrender, of our fondest hopes is a regular feature of normal human life.

Lester L. Havens

Enough we live—and if a life,
With large results so little rife,
Though bearable, seem hardly worth
This pomp of worlds, this pain of birth.

Matthew Arnold

There are some desires that are not desirable.

G. K. Chesterton

The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, “high” or “low.” It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful.

C. S. Lewis

There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.

Evelyn Waugh (from Brideshead Revisited)

When we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.

Willa Cather

A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.


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