The Problem with Desire


944608_427675097329266_1931831483_nIt took me several years to begin coming to my senses about how I was spending my life energy.

For years, I have worked myself to a pulp with the goal of “having it all” and retiring young.  But devoting my time and energy to satisfy myself with material desires is finally declining.

For as long as I can remember, our culture has been all about the accumulation of material things.  Even though my parents were  completely against the concept of “more is better”, somehow I got wrapped up in the whole mess.  People who I was surrounded with constantly spoke openly about how much they paid for their houses and cars; something taboo while I was growing up.  Even the high school students who surrounded me at work consistently tried to outdo each other with “brand name” items they wore and owned.

Our life is inundated with constant messages insisting that we buy more stuff; larger houses, better cars, etc.  We have decided that consuming as much as possible is our right as Americans, therefore we comply and continue swipe the plastic one more time.

But my brief moments of happiness during large purchases and small shopping sprees has come to a stop.  Even though humans are conditioned to want to better ourselves and work hard to do so, it doesn’t work out the way we like:  we work, earn money, accumulate “stuff”, enjoy it for a short time, then work harder to get something better.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  I built a lifestyle around this accumulation mindset, but the emptiness from the process has finally come to the forefront.  Basically, it has started to feel pretty crappy…and it has to stop.

Don’t get me wrong:  I like buying things.  I just do a lot more thinking about the value of the stuff I buy as it relates to the life energy I have spent making the money in the first place.  For instance: If you make $50/hr and buy a $200 item, you had to make $300 before taxes to buy it.  If you asked yourself if the item you bought was worth 6 hours of your life energy before you bought it, it would be interesting to see how often you would follow through with the purchase.

Many of us have been conditioned since childhood to focus on getting things as a reward for achievement (don’t even get me started on Millennials!); a car, a medal, or a promotion are examples.  For some time, I stopped enjoying the process and focused solely on the result.  More and more, my mind was not in the present.  Focusing on the outcome instead of enjoying the activity was not sustainable; I was wishing my days away and not enjoying things right in front of me.

I am not “there” yet, but at least I have become aware of lost time and the potential for happiness in the present.  I am aware of the accumulated effect of being in a mental “fantasy land” most of the time; it is a mind that is always one step ahead, on to the next thing, never settling, never content, and never appreciating.  This mindset has served me well in my career ladder, but it is unsustainable for true happiness when all is said and done, I think.

Balance is necessary and key.  Being content while doing the little things; driving, washing dishes, reading, etc., is crucial.  Enjoying the present and throwing ourselves into our activities 100% can lead to true happiness.  With this attitude, any work or job we do can become meaningful, and the accumulation of the small daily joys can bring about a lifetime of contentment.





  1. What I’ve learned over the course of my life is that simplicity is often overlooked as a way to off-set not having the money to buy ‘stuff’. Now that we have money and are debt free including the mortgage I can safely say that money doesn’t buy happiness. Many times we put too much emphasis on having more and you are right that desire to stake a claim in all things new. There is more to life than money. I spent close to $2000 last week on a new laptop and on my wife for the first time in ages and for those that get uber excited, I wasn’t. That just told me that money, doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted…How to lose a guy in one dateMy Profile

    • Congrats on being debt free, CBB! I agree, the buying thing gets old once the excitement of having and spending it wears off. That said, we are lucky that we have the opportunity to write all of this while so many are having trouble getting work.

  2. I don’t think desire is the problem, I think it is hoe people deal with it. It is always easy to blame something rather than point the finger at yourself. I think desire is great and can help you achieve your goals if used properly.

  3. “I stopped enjoying the process and focused solely on the result.” Boy, can I ever relate to this. It’s been a primary focus of my year off – to embrace the present, the journey and the enjoyment of doing. Not “what do I get outta this”. Beautiful post Tony.
    Taynia @ The Fiscal Flamingo recently posted…Three Ways An Organized Closet Will Save You Money (Without Selling Your Clothes)My Profile

  4. Hello Tony!

    Sometimes I get caught up in the results-only mindset on my business, which began out of a great passion. Great reminder to focus on the present and enjoy exactly where I am ;).
    Amanda L Grossman recently posted…Is it Possible to Retire Early if You have Children?My Profile

    • Thinking about results is very healthy. My problem is that I am always looking for the next result, never satisfied with arriving, or even the process. I am working on it!

  5. Hi Tony,

    Like you, I was all messed up when it came to understanding money, being wise with it and appreciating what I did have. In my early 30s I realized things had to change. And I began my journey into financial responsibility. But, it took a long time to slowly learn new habits, save and ultimately become debt free including my home.

    While I feel extremely fortunate, I still have work to do. It’s a constant fine-tuning of the practice and I don’t think people like us will ever be “done.” That’s okay, though, I enjoy the subject!
    Ree Klein recently posted…Survey Sunday: How Much of Your Yard is Edible?My Profile

    • Amazing that you are debt free! Constant fine tuning and optimization is absolutely the challenge. It’s been fun to follow you!

  6. I’m all for buying “stuff” if that stuff brings you REAL happiness, joy, or even convenience. I think there’s a lot to be said about removing stress from the equation. Stress can be a huge downer.

    I think that whatever motivates you to challenge yourself, that’s what you need to focus on. A challenged person is a fulfilled person. A fulfilled person is a happy person!
    Daisy @ Young Finances recently posted…What is Your Area of Financial Strength and Weakness?My Profile

    • Great points you make. I am a very motivated person and I love a good challenge. What I meant to say in this post was that I go from one challenge to the other, never totally satisfied where I am. It’s a double edged sword, really. YOu have to enjoy the process fully or else there will never be any satisfaction…

  7. Awesome post Tony. I enjoyed reading each and every line of your post and what a great insight you have on this matter. Most of us feel we will be happy with our materialistic possessions whereas the reality is something else. Happiness if from inside and it cannot be bought by any material or money. If you start feeling content with what you have in your life, each moment you live would be memorable and happy moments to cherish for the entire life
    Rita P recently posted…Become rich now or neverMy Profile

    • Very nice of you to say, Rita! I had to learn the hard way in this regard, but at least it makes for some good writing material :).

  8. Many of us feel entitled by want we want and why we want them. We look at the fact that we say we work to pay bills and enjoy life. For years I had friends that justified purchases/desires by saying I worked hard I deserve to treat myself. I am all for treating but every day? Every weekend? What about the car that cost 500-600 per month. That was one treat that you are still paying for. I learned a long time ago that I have to stop living for the future. I think some call it the GAP year. I look at how great my life is now compared to where I was a few years ago. Nothing wrong with desire but as with a lot of things there are two sides. Like credit/credit cards, they can be great if used properly.
    Thomas recently posted…Grocery Shopping List: How I Save Money on GroceriesMy Profile

    • Thanks for this, Thomas. My most expensive purchases were made using that reasoning. Luckily, I hit the “wall” and saw that it was a dead-end street.

  9. It is interesting how we are conditioned to want material things from an early age ‘having earned them’. It’s definitely a mindset I’ve been guilty of over the years. Looking back, I wished I’d never bought half the things I’ve accumulated! I don’t ever want to waste my money (and life energies) again!
    debtfreeoneday recently posted…Increase your happiness – and your wealth: just say no!My Profile

  10. This little video summed it up so nicely for me a few years back, Tony. We are not losers because we are not out purchasing the latest greatest items. It sucks to be in such a fierce and self-destructive cycle. Glad to be out even if most think we are total freaks. Better a freak than a full time consumer as far as I am concerned. Have a nifty and thrifty one, T!!!
    cj recently posted…Who’s Afraid of the Urgent Doc?My Profile

    • I love that video! I saw it a few months ago and it really hit home. Decluttering is such a process….I have no idea when I will be done. It’s tough!

  11. Tony, I love this writing. At first I was mad at VT for taking you away from us, but these posts make it all worth it!

    My parents were frugal. They did not charge, charge, charge. Now that I finally have my head on a lot straighter, I wonder how in the heck I ended up bringing debt to my marriage and then accumulating more. The whole process of simplifying has been one of the best ways to bond with CJ. We are closer than ever because we “came clean” about money and started to work toward being debt-free like CBB (couldn’t resist the rhyme!). Thanks so much for writing from the heart, Tony. No one has all the answers, and I love getting ideas from each other!
    Tammy R recently posted…Who’s Afraid of the Urgent Doc?My Profile

    • YOu have it right, Tammy. We share the ideas, and together come up with some answers (for now, at least!). I have a feeling I will be writing quite a bit on decluttering in the coming weeks…

  12. I am actively attempting to be content with life just as it is. I always seem to want change or more or less, it’s work in and of itself. So for the last few months, I am working on just being happy.
    Crystal recently posted…Hey Whiners, Bite Me!My Profile

  13. Great post Tony and congrats on being self-aware :)

    Early on as a kid, I knew instinctively that I was not a status-quo kind of guy. Growing up and getting sucked into the consumption part of working to live, I felt empty and unfulfilled until I “retired” at 32 vowing to be my own person. It’s been twenty years since and I have never looked back. It hasn’t always been a piece of cake, but it has definitely gotten a lot easier over the years. I am now healthy, happy and free. My desires are now totally different than they once were and are fueled by an inner peace rather than a need to purchase things. I still buy things, but now my purchases are for the right reasons, a need, rather than a desire to be like everybody else.

    Sorry for the ramble :)

    Take care, all the best and thanks again for a reflective piece.

    lyle @ the Joy of Simple recently posted…When Enough Becomes ENOUGH, Hit The Delete Key!!!My Profile

  14. I’ve discovered that getting rid of stuff is as pleasant (maybe more) than acquiring stuff.

    In my mid-thirties I am becoming less and less interested in objects and more and more in experiences, often of the very simple kind. As a matter of fact I have never been into stuff, but I thought with an increasing income that’s where I would go… that’s not what’s happening.


  1. […] The Problem With Desire (We Only Do This Once) Adding perspective might help you to think twice before adding to your arsenal of possessions. A very thoughtful piece by ‘We Only Do This Once’ which looks at the impact of purchasing patterns on our overall happiness. […]

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