When I ask someone, “Do you know what you want?”, often she’ll answer with a question of her own: “What do you mean?”
Do you mean what are my goals this year? What do I want to achieve? Or do you mean… what do I want to do with my life? Are you asking me about life purpose?
Well, it’s not a trick question. Although I think it’s really tricky for a lot of people to answer.
Even a year ago, it would’ve been fairly tricky for me too. I would probably have answered with a list of things I wanted to achieve and acquire and experience. You know, goals I wanted to accomplish, shiny pennies I wanted to get my hands on, and experiences I wanted to have.
And maybe I would’ve thrown into the mix wanting to be more patient or more loving—some state of being I wanted to embody more of.
But here’s where we get into trouble
Or maybe not trouble, but here’s where I think we’ve got it backwards.
You do and want things because you think they’ll make you feel better.
- You want the new job because you think it will make you feel better.
- You want to buy a bigger house because you think it will make you feel better.
- You want to pay off your debt because you think it will make you feel better.
Even something like wanting to be more patient or more loving is because you think it will make you a better person, which will…make you feel better.
Everything you want is because you think it will make you feel better. That’s true for goals you want to achieve, shiny pennies you want to acquire, experiences you want to have, and states of being you’d like to embody.
You think you’ll be really happy when…
So let’s say you have a goal: You want a certain number of clients or accounts at work. You think you’ll be really happy when you reach that magic number.
The traditional approach to getting what you want is this: Do a bunch of stuff to get more clients, more accounts, and then when—if—you actually reach your goal, feel good. Feel whatever the emotion is you thought this achievement would produce.
Now, that’s problematic for two reasons.
One, if it takes months and months to get more clients, then you’re without that feeling for the duration, right? You’re not going to feel happy until you actually get a certain number of clients. So you’re held apart from that desired feeling for all those months.
Also, we’re not all that accurate anticipating how something will make us feel. You might think reaching a certain number of clients will feel really empowering, but when it actually happens—meh—you’ve missed the mark. Or, perhaps you do feel empowered, but it’s short-lived. The feeling wears off pretty quickly after you reach your goal.
Do you see the problem?
You postponed feeling how you want to feel until you reach your goal. And there’s a good chance you overestimated how reaching your goal would actually make you feel.
So let’s go back to the beginning: Do you know what you want? I’m going to say that behind whatever tangible thing you answer with, what you really want is to feel a certain way. You’re after an emotion.
You think achieving the goal is going to feel this way. You think having the experience is going to feel this way.
So “Do you know what you want?” is a tricky question. Because most of us leap immediately to goals and shiny pennies.
Instead, what if we answered first and foremost with how we want to feel? And THEN we took a light, fun, adventuresome approach to filling in the details.
Let’s say life is an all-you-can-imagine buffet and you get to pick easily and lightly, Oh, I’d like some of that (an inspiring career change). Oh, and I want that too (a really great relationship). And a bit of that please (time for creative hobbies).
It’s fantastic to want what you want. That’s part of this rich, fun life experience.
But maybe we make it too serious. And we put the cart before the horse when we focus so much on the package of what we want rather than the essence of how we want to feel.
“Behind my every desire is my desire to feel good. There is no desire that anyone holds for any other reason than that they believe they will feel better in the achievement of it. Whether it is a material object, a physical state of being, a relationship, a condition, or a circumstance…at the heart of every desire is the desire to feel good.” —Abraham
Just for the fun of it
I encourage you to be light about how you answer Do you know what you want? It’s not so serious. And what you want can just be for the sheer experience of it.
- Want more money because you’d like to experience abundance.
- Want more travel because you’d like to experience adventure.
- Want improved health because you’d like to experience wellness.
- Want a new career because you’d like to experience growth.
A new answer to the question
Sometimes we get really hung up because we feel like we don’t know what we want in a big, grand life purpose sort of way. I often hear from women in their 40’s and 50’s who say they don’t know what they want to be or do when they “grow up.”.
And before I would have helped these women dig in and try to figure it out. But in the last year I’ve really changed my own outlook about this topic of want, of life purpose, of setting goals, of legacy.
I have a new answer to the question: Do you know what you want?
And my new answer is joy. I want to feel good. I want to feel emotions at the high end of the emotional scale like love and appreciation, like positive expectation and empowerment.
My answer is I want to feel good on the journey.
The main event isn’t the destination; it’s your joyous journey. You did not come forth seeking assignments to complete. You came forth for reason to flow, and to love and enjoy life. Even though you will return home at the end of any vacation, the idea of your holiday is not to complete it as quickly as possible so that you can check it off your list. The idea of your vacation—and of this life experience—is to have a joyous experience. —Abraham
I want a joyous experience
Now I will pick lots of fun “packages” for my joyous experience— like traveling to Copenhagen this year and writing another book. As I said, it’s fun to make your selections from the all-you-can-imagine buffet of life experiences.
So, yes, I want to go to Copenhagen. That’s an experience I want to have. Yes, I want to write a book. That’s a goal I want to achieve.
But what I really want—the beautiful umbrella over any and all wants, any and all packages—is to have a joyous experience.
Will you embrace the notion that joy is the ultimate “want”? And then gleefully, happily, excitedly select from the smorgasbord of all the delightful things life has to offer—the goals, shiny pennies, experiences, and states of being that you desire?