Chapter 8. To be human is to suffer

Mr. Clear
4 min readFeb 6, 2022

Humans are desire machines.

But specifically, our consciousnesses are desire machines.

We have desires about everything in our lives, especially our relationships.

So, we try to satisfy some of them, sometimes succeed, sometimes fail, react, and then the process starts over.

But our awareness sees that being a desire machine, going through this process, causes us to suffer.

First, we suffer when we don’t get what we want.

We feel emotions we don’t want to feel like anger, sadness, and frustration.

We suffer when we don’t get we want now, but we also suffer because we didn’t get what we wanted in the past (i.e., regret) or when we imagine that we might not get what we want in the future (i.e., anxiety).

But even if we had full control, even if we could get everything we wanted, we would still suffer.

That’s because: we suffer even when we get what we want.

Sometimes we suffer when we get what we want because we don’t want what we get.

Sometimes, getting what we want isn’t what it’s all it’s cracked up to be; the moment we get what we want, we realize that we don’t actually want it. We ask our parents to buy us a toy only to realize it’s not what we imagined or we ask our crush out on a date only to realize it’s not a good fit.

Sometimes it takes time; we realize in the future that what we wanted in the past isn’t what we want now. Some people realize at the end of their lives that they wanted to have spent less time on their careers and more time on their health, family, and friends.

But even if we want what we get, we still suffer, because as soon as one desire is satisfied, we start focusing on another.

When we get a new toy, new clothes, or a new car, it feels good in the beginning. But then as time goes on and what we have starts getting old, we start wanting a new one.

When we get a good grade, we want another one. When we get good scores on the SAT, we want to get into a good college. Then we want a good job. Then we want a promotion. Then we want one project after another to succeed.

Or we’re always searching for meaning in our lives. It starts with getting validation and approval from our parents. Then it’s about personal development (i.e., school, career). Then it might be about finding and building a life with partner. Then it might be about raising children well. Then it might be about helping others.

So, in the end, we’re going to suffer whether we get what we want or not.

Our lives are just one long string of moments of suffering.

We’re either suffering from the pain of not having gotten what we wanted or the dissatisfaction of not yet having what we want.

And it all comes down to the nature of our desires.

Our desires come with a feeling of dissatisfaction in order to motivate us, it’s a package deal. When we want something, it also means we’re dissatisfied because we don’t have it.

It’s how we survive. It’s how we live.

If we stopped having desires, if we ever stopped feeling dissatisfied, we’d stop trying. We’d stop living. We’d have no reason to go on.

So suffering isn’t a bad or good thing.

Suffering is everything.

Suffering defines us.

To be human is to suffer.

Our lives are just one long string of moments of suffering.

However, that string is interrupted by short-lived, fleeting moments of reprieve in the form of temporary satisfaction when we do get what we want.

Those moments trigger emotions we want to feel, like happiness and satisfaction.

And so, we search for those moments, chase them, and try to hold onto them.

We want those moments to last forever.

We want to stop suffering.

We want to stop wanting. We want the desire process to stop. It’s exhausting.

We want some sort of lasting happiness and satisfaction.

And we feel like we’ll be happy and satisfied once we get this one last thing.

We feel like we’re on the brink of lasting happiness and satisfaction if we can just get that one deal, or one job, or one person to do what we want.

But satisfying our desires only provides temporary relief; no matter the outcome we’re always going to feel a deep-seated dissatisfaction, a nagging neural itch that won’t go away, even if we do achieve it.

Again, it’s just the nature of our desires.

Whatever emotion we feel from getting what we want is temporary. The feeling wears off and it’s quickly replaced by a new focus on another desire, and the dissatisfaction that follows.

Nothing can offer us lasting happiness and satisfaction, not even getting everything we want.

In fact, the more we get, we more we want.

When we get what we want, and feel the associated emotions, we need to achieve more to trigger that same feeling.

We build up a tolerance. We want something bigger. Something better.

And so, we’re going to feel dissatisfied no matter how many desires we satisfy.

And the more we try, the more dissatisfied we’re going to feel.

And so, to be human is to be a desire machine.

And to be a desire machine, is to suffer, whether we get what we want or not.

But also to have a desire not to suffer anymore.

And so to try to end or diminish our suffering.

Only to have that effort perpetuate our suffering.

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