Do you want what you can’t have?

Many of the comments I get from readers boil down to one basic question: “Why is what I can’t have, often more appealing than what I can have?”

Wanting what you can’t have is the easy way out. In other words, fantasy is often preferable to the work it takes to achieve something that’s achievable. People say, “Don’t sacrifice the good to the perfect.” Similarly, one could say, “Don’t sacrifice the attainable for the sake of the unattainable.”

For some, life is a pretty hopeless place, and yearning for the unattainable is better than nothing. “I can’t have anything I value, but at least I have my daydreams.” Life — or at least a happy life — requires a can-do attitude. Specifically, the belief that one might not get a certain thing one wants, but a person’s still capable of wanting other things. This belief is part of the can-do attitude. Many people hem themselves in with the assumption that they only want a small number of things. But our capacity to value is limitless.

“The grass is always greener’ might mean that your neighbor has a better lawn, or a better life than you do. While lawns can be easily evaluated, lives are harder to know and judge. Sometimes people seem happy who really aren’t. Indeed, the people who seem happy might be happy, but you’re not with them all the time. You can’t compare your own life, which you live 24/7, with the life of another. It’s one thing to say, “I like what Joe did in his life. I’m inspired. I think I’ll do the same.” It’s another thing to say, “I want Joe’s life, and I resent him for it.”

Some people believe that envy is evil, and that one shouldn’t have envious thoughts because it makes you a bad person. It is true that envy is irrational and unproductive. But it’s more of an error than an evil. And an error that, if left uncorrected, could turn into evil. Envy is rooted in wanting what you can’t have. The problem with envy is not that it’s evil and “selfish.” In fact, it’s self-destructive. The only way to get over it is to get to the source of the problem: Wanting what you cannot have, while mistakenly believing that you can’t pursue other goals. In a sense, you must be ‘selfish’ (in a good sense) to get over that envy. You have to believe, ‘My life is special and valuable. I can and should make it successful and happy.’ These thoughts can take the focus off of other peoples’ lives and return it to your own, where it belongs.

Sometimes people want what they think they can’t have, when in fact they really could have it, or at least something like it. Perhaps you can’t have Dorothy’s husband just because you like and admire him, but you can have a man like him, if you’re willing to persist in finding one.

People have to believe in their values, i.e., “I can find that thing that I want.” Of course, just wishing it doesn’t make it so, but it’s a necessary precondition for attaining anything valuable. The only alternative is to give up. Once you’ve given up, it’s absolutely certain you won’t attain what you want. A self-fulfilling prophesy if there ever was one!

There are always possibilities out there waiting for you. All you have to do is get out there and make them happen.