Column: You can’t always get what you want

Moving to Prescott 10 years ago was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. My mother had just died, the company I’d been at for 10 years went bankrupt and my husband was on the verge of retiring.

We had bought a home here two years prior and rented it and the tenants had just moved out. Everything was pointing like neon arrows in the direction of picking up stakes and starting a whole new chapter. I was full of anticipation and hope, and I’m happy to say that life here in Prescott has more than met my expectations!

Not everything I’ve wanted to do or have has turned out so well. In fact, achieving or getting what I want sometimes gives me only temporary satisfaction. Wanting things seems to be written into our DNA, from the bicycle in childhood to our teenage crush to the car, the house, the promotion, or the admiration of others. But often, once we acquire that thing we yearned for, it begins to lose its luster. Now that it’s ours, we deal with the reality instead of the shiny idealized version we’ve been seeing in our mind’s eye. The chain falls off the bike, our crush expects a commitment, the house needs a new roof, the new job is much more work.

More often than not, the things that create lasting happiness don’t spring from comparing our lives and possessions with others. Keeping up with the Joneses keeps us constantly chasing external conditions that may or may not be a good fit for us. Recognizing and valuing the things in life that don’t just attract us but fit our needs like a key in a lock is admittedly a subtle skill, but one that the calculating, comparing mind can never master.

Finding those things that give us that “meant-to-be” feeling may be part serendipity, part accident, but I think knowing yourself makes it much more likely. That means taking the time to introspect and bring hidden hopes, dreams and fears to light.

Unfortunately, without the luxury of time and the inclination toward navel-gazing, most of us simply get on with our lives until another shiny bauble or heart’s desire lures us into the cycle of wanting once more. But making the time to pause for reflection is well worth it. If you’re my age, you’ll recognize this wisdom from the Rolling Stones:

You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometimes you might find You get what you need.

Shifting focus from what we don’t have to the pleasure of having things that are right for us fills us with gratitude and helps expand our circle of concern beyond ourselves. When our cup runs over, we naturally look outward for other cups to fill. This begins a very different cycle from the wheel of wanting. In giving to and serving others we experience an elating freedom from self-interest and the more we do it, the more we want to experience it again.