Why We Must Let Go of Desire


As human beings, we all have a purpose, unique gifts and talents, and distinct experiences that grow our desires. No matter what our desires, we seek specific outcomes for all that we do.  When we receive praise from our employer, enjoy our favorite meal at a restaurant, or even achieve complete calmness following a yoga class, we cling to those moments, and we crave the same fulfillment from these things again and again. It may seem as though these experiences and goals motivate our actions and push us towards accomplishments, however they can actually restrict our potential.

Research has shown that the pursuit of happiness is actually causing people to be less happy. The Bhagavad Gita, a two-thousand-year-old allegory, can provide insight on this.

“Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.”

Similarly to the Bhagavad Gita, the researchers concluded that the more people value happiness, the more likely they will feel disappointed.

We have all experienced a time when something didn’t go as planned. Imagine that you have a career you love. You’ve been assigned to lead a project at work and your employer has promised you a promotion if the project succeeds. Suddenly, your perspective of your work changes. You begin making decisions based on what you think your employer will like, rather than using your own intuition. A position you once loved becomes very stressful because you’re striving to earn the promotion. When the project you worked so diligently on, isn’t enough for a promotion, it leaves you drained and lacking confidence in your work. If you do earn the promotion, your work begins to change in pursuit of impressing your employer over and over again.

To achieve the highest possible success of your actions, you must let go of the outcomes. However, we still need to seek the things that call our spirit. Oprah Winfrey describes how this balance works.

“Honor your calling. Everyone has one. Trust your heart and success will come to you.”

To pursue actions without grasping on to our desires, we must shift our focus from reward to aspiration. Desire, in yogic tradition, consists of two parts. The first part is the attachment, which leads to the experience of suffering when an ideal outcome is not reached. The other part is aspiration, which is quiet determination and letting go of the outcome.

Imagine the same scenario, except this time you aren’t focused on the promotion. The project consists of everything you love to do, so instead of worrying about the outcome, you’re simply grateful to be working on this type of project. You’re able to see clearly and make rational decisions. It turns out that this has been the best project of your career, and you’re proud to show the work to your employer. In the end, whether or not you earned the promotion is irrelevant because you’ve experienced the moment as is, rather than relying on an outcome to determine your success.

We fulfill our aspirations when we use our gifts, talents, and knowledge in such a way that all we seek is the experience, in whatever way it presents itself to us. By giving ourselves fully to the moment, without seeking a specific outcome, we’re able to be present while still engaging fully in life’s journey.

Sources: Wiley Online Library, The Atlantic, Can seeking happiness make people unhappy?
Photo from Natural Awakenings

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