You think you want things, but it’s feelings you want

When are you going to stop striving for more, better, different?

More money. Better sex. Different postcode. More happiness. Better job. Different friends.

The list of things is endless, isn’t it?

Most people can identify what they want. “To be in shape again” “More time for me”. “A more rewarding career”.

But if you ask them why they want it, it’s a different story. Then they’ll scratch their head and look at you like you just asked them to clean your bathroom.

Where I’m from, this is called being arse over tits.

But it is understandable. We’re taught to value things. That’s how we know our value.


  • Things aren’t what you want. Feelings are.
  • You might have poorly predicted which things will give you the feelings you desire the most. Humans do it all the time, with good reason, which I’m going to talk about.
  • Even if you are pursuing the correct things, by waiting to get them, you are making your happiness an “if/but” situation. (You’re also inadvertently making it harder to get the things).

What’s behind the things you want

Do you really think that being fit, or doing more fulfilling work, are things worth having of themselves?

No. Everything is empty and devoid of meaning, bar the meaning we attach. It is desire that gives things meaning. Specifically, core desired feelings. You have them. I have them. Even your cat might have them, I don’t know.

Desire is the force that is propelling us out of bed in the morning, and keeping us hungry for things.

Here’s the key takeaway of this article:

You are being driven by core desired feelings, whether you’re aware of that or not. Choosing to become aware of your desired feelings offers you possibilities for getting satisfaction, without your external circumstances having to change. Doing so helps your external circumstances to change.

Bombshell? Let’s break it down.

Learning your desired feelings

Make a list of what you think you want, and then write down the core desired feelings behind those things. If you are struggling to identify the feeling behind the things (and you have really fast internet!) then use this.

Core desired feelings are stable: focus on seeking to discover what you want to feel consistently over time – not what you want to feel on Mondays.  You should be able to identify four or five and they should flow from your values. My core desired feelings are: love and connection, contribution, awareness, joy, fulfillment.

Surface level desires v deep desires

Something important:

There are surface level desires and there are deeper underlying desires. It’s the deeper ones you need to be interested in.

Take the surface level desire for a highly paid income. What is the deeper desire driving that want?

Well, you tell me. It could be the desire for security, or status or even freedom. It’ll depend on what your values are.

You might find during this exploration that you don’t really want the things you want at all. You might find that you don’t know what you want.

In that case, I suggest some further self-discovery. I’ve written a roadmap for that which you might find useful.

How to get what you want out of life

Getting what you want in life works the opposite to getting a disease. You have to inject a little of the feeling to generate more of it further down the line.

Here’s how this works:

Experiencing your core desired feelings right now reinforces them in your mind and by extension your body. This impacts your subsequent actions. And your actions today change your circumstances over time.

Let’s say take my core desired feeling of fulfillment. And, let’s say I’m sitting around on a Tuesday deciding to dwell my attention on the unworkable aspects of my life currently. The elements that aren’t especially fulfilling.

I’m not going to do anything useful with that time.

Let’s say instead that I ask myself how I can feel fulfilled right now, with what I have.

That changes the frame for the next few hours.

I might decide to read my book. I might write this article.

I’m training myself to give me a dose of something I deep down need and want.

It isn’t a terrible thing to be present to the dissatisfaction you feel about your life, by the way. Dissatisfaction is an instructive emotion. However, it doesn’t serve to stay in that state. It isn’t a proactive state.

How to experience love

Let’s have one more example.

Take the person who desires love and intimacy. Let’s say they are telling themselves the story that because they haven’t been able to discover love and intimacy consistently with one other person, they don’t get to feel those feelings.

That person needs to ask themselves this:

How can I feel loved and deeply connected to another right now, here on my own?

I know, seems impossible right? It isn’t though.

Intimacy is close familiarity and friendship, and the biggest intimacy a person can have is actually with themselves.

We build intimacy with ourselves by getting on close terms with our thoughts and emotions, and experiencing who we really are beyond those things. That’s how to feel the most incredible intimacy, and the ability to be intimate with others flows from that.

Okay, so what about wanting to feel desired and appreciated, valued, recognized and validated? It is more difficult to experience those feelings on your own.

Fortunately, none of us are alone. We have friends and family, and friends we haven’t met yet. There are always people around to appreciate you. Dwell your attention there now, and set yourself up to experience those feelings on a grander scale later.

Even if it doesn’t work, what have you lost? Nothing. You’ve gained an ability to emotionally self-regulate.


  • You think you want things, but you actually want feelings.
  • Identify those feelings. Dig underneath the surface.
  • Find opportunities in the day to feel the feelings. As much as you can.
  • Repeat ad finitum.
  • Watch your external circumstances line up to generate more of the feelings you want.

When things are your currency, neuroticism is high. When you trade in feelings, you’re more proactive about your experience of life. You understand and use the feedback loop between positive emotions, action, and changed circumstances.

The process I’ve mapped is fairly simple to understand. But you might not adopt it right away or consistently. I forget to do it sometimes myself. It feels rebellious to feel good before your circumstances are telling you that you can.

But this process works. It has worked for people before you, and it will work for people after you.

It’s one of the secrets to life.

Rezzan Hussey is the creator of the Art of Wellbeing, a partner site of Ideapod. She’s also the author of My Own Guru.

Rezzan Hussey

Rezzan Hussey

Rezzan is a writer, editor and Certified Health Coach.

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