Autumn leaves

5 Ways to Break Through Manufactured Desires to Find What Matters 

Identify all that is mediating your experience so that you can reclaim your life through conscious, deliberate, and fully-aware choices

by Zoe Weil

As I drank a cup of tea on a stormy fall day, looking out the window at the tree limbs swaying, shaking, and bending in the intense winds, I suddenly and inexplicably felt compelled to go outside. So I did.

I was immediately struck by the profound difference between the experience of observing through the window – beautiful and exciting though it was – and actually feeling the wind on my skin, blowing my hair into my face, and hearing its muffled roar through the trees. However much I could and did observe through the window, the glass mediated my experience significantly. And that’s just a window.

Our emotions, desires, and beliefs are constantly mediated.

Profit-driven companies manipulate us to want their products, foods, and services, even if we have no need for them; even if they are unhealthy; even if they use up our precious time and cost us money; even if their production is cruel, unjust, or destructive. They also manipulate everyone around us – our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – who in turn influence us when we see them with their new stuff that we soon come to covet ourselves.

With our desires so mediated, we may not even know what we truly want.

Surely we don’t want people to work under terrible conditions. We don’t want toxic chemicals to wind up in the water stream. We don’t want bunnies to be blinded and killed in painful tests for cosmetics and personal care products or for farmed animals to be treated mercilessly – in ways that would put the perpetrators in jail if their victims were dogs, cats, or parakeets instead of pigs, cows, and chickens. And we don’t want climate change to ravage our world.

Yet, most people who would not want these things I’ve just described purchase products manufactured in sweatshops and through environmentally-destructive processes; buy personal care products tested on animals in painful experiments; and eat meat, dairy, and eggs that come from confinement operations that are cruel beyond imagination. In other words, we make choices that we know contribute to harm and suffering to satisfy our desires and sometimes our whims.

We may become convinced we want these things more than we want to live with greater compassion, kindness, and integrity. Or we may believe our choices don’t matter, even though the truth is that our collective choices have an enormous impact on what companies produce.

In other words, our deepest values become eclipsed by manufactured desires.

It’s hard to know what we truly want when so many forces around us tell us what we should want, so here are some suggestions for getting in touch with your values.

5 ways to break through mediated desires to discover what really matters to you:

  1. Write down, or illustrate through some artistic means, what you really want in life, and what is truly important to you. This could be a sentence (e.g., “I want to live a life in which I positively impact people, other species, and the environment.”), a collage of words and images that represent your values, or a poem that sums up what a good life means to you. Place what you’ve created somewhere you will see it multiple times a day. Commit to looking at it and meditating upon it regularly. Yearn for what you really want enough to find your path to finding it, unmediated by the voices of others.
  2. Go outside and spend time in nature. Use all your senses. Smell the needles on an evergreen or bury your nose in a flower. Touch the petals of that flower or the bark on that tree. Listen to the wind through a forest and the songs of birds. Taste wild mint or freshly-fallen snow. Look closely at what’s before you, above you, and below you. Commit to ten minutes a day observing a square foot in nature and notice how your deepest desires begin to shift.
  3. Choose a period of time to take a break from media and advertising. Get an ad blocker and/or stop visiting social media platforms. Notice if you feel and think differently after this break.
  4. Analyze advertisements, which you’ll find everywhere, even if you’ve taken a media break (e.g., on billboards, logos on people’s tee shirts, product placements in movies, etc.). Ask yourself these questions:
  • What deep need or desire is the product or service promising to fulfill?
  • How am I being manipulated?
  • What suffering, cruelty, or destruction is hidden from view that was caused by the manufacturing or delivery of the product?

Before you buy anything, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need it? If not, how badly do I want it?
  • What are the negative impacts on other people, animals, and the environment of the item during any part of its production or transportation?
  • What might I choose instead that causes more good and less harm?

These five suggestions can intervene in the manufacturing of your desires long enough for you to step outside of them – literally and figuratively – and experience the full expression of your true self. It is so liberating to decide what you really want and to identify all that is mediating your experience so that you can reclaim your life through your conscious, deliberate, fully-aware choices. Living and choosing this way provides a beautiful feedback loop in which your decisions cause less harm to others and are more deeply aligned with your values, which reduces feelings of shame, regret, and guilt and bolsters feelings of meaning, purpose, and joy.

Originally posted on Psychology Today November 17, 2022.