A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Wellness Matters: Clear unhealthy wants, desires from thoughts, find joy in the present

By Jan Carden
Access Wellness Group

“Seeking is endless. It never comes to a state of rest; it never ceases.” 
– Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness


The first time I heard how wanting and grasping is actually a source of pain I thought that seemed a bit extreme. Now I get it. As I’ve gotten older I understand how my constant wanting mind really can result in feelings of dissatisfaction. When I am in a place of wanting or grasping I fail to experience contentment with what is.

It is endless the way our minds think about everything we want. When I was little it was an Easy Bake Oven and blond hair instead of brown. Now it’s less traffic, a better economy and a clean house without the effort. My mind can go on and on and on and before you know it I can experience feelings of dissatisfaction because I’m not getting what I want.

We frequently spend our lives working for that which we want, getting the item or achieving the goal, getting a sense of satisfaction but then experiencing wanting or grasping once again. It’s a cycle; we want, we get or achieve, and then we just want something else.

Of course having wants and desires is part of being human. If we didn’t have the capacity to desire then we wouldn’t procreate. We wouldn’t eat. We wouldn’t set goals for ourselves. We wouldn’t strive for success or care for and nurture those we love. We’d eventually just give up.

What I know now is that there is healthy desire and unhealthy desire. Unhealthy desires are associated with greed, addiction, and overwhelming ambition. This can then turn into possessiveness, self-centeredness, compulsion and dissatisfaction. When I think I deserve something or obsess about that which I want then I fail to live more peacefully with what I already have. When I’m up in my head concentrating on what I want then I fail to notice the beautiful trees, the holiday lights and my granddaughter’s sweet face. When I focus on my desires then I don’t experience fulfillment and satisfaction with what I already have. When I let go of grasping for what I want and bring myself to the present then I experience generosity and gratitude. This is where I find true peace and satisfaction.

Healthy desire creates happiness, and gives rise to care, generosity and integrity. Looking at our motives helps distinguish between healthy and unhealthy desires. Healthy desire is associated with dedication, commitment and love.

This holiday season I vow to let go of everything I want and to instead practice being present. I vow to practice generosity and gratitude. The following is a list of things that can help to cultivate mindfulness, satisfaction and joy this holiday season:

1. Think of someone else as soon as you wake – this gets us out of our own constant wanting.
2. Remember someone who has brought something positive to your life – a former teacher, a mentor, a friend, a family member. Express your gratitude to them. Thank them for what they do.
3. Give a gift and be of service. Not out of an effort to be good or out of pity for that person but because it feels good to be generous and kind.
4. Pay attention to the care and the generosity that you see around you – the guy who waves you on in traffic, the cashier who wishes you a good day, the teachers who are helping students, or the man who offers his seat to the older woman in the waiting room. Appreciate that there is kindness and generosity around you.
5. Breathe. Be here now. See and experience all that you already have.
6. Stay in gratitude all day long. In the morning be thankful you have a bed and a place to sleep. Say thank you for the electricity and the modern plumbing. Acknowledge all those in your life who care about you. Look for the beauty around you – the colors, the light, nature.
7. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a gift everyday – talk kindly to yourself and let go of the constant judgments and demands you put on yourself. Take a walk outside and notice all that is beautiful. Indulge in some special tea. Turn off the television and the computer and read something inspiring.
8. Pay attention to your thoughts. When you notice your mind is grasping and wanting, rather than react to it, just nod to the thoughts and return to the very present.

Jan C. Carden is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group in Lexington where she provides individual and family counseling. Jan works with adolescents, families and women. She uses a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness in her work and specializes in issues related to addiction, trauma, depression and anxiety. Carden lives in Lexington with her husband. She has three grown children and one granddaughter.

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