Two weeks ago I picked up On Desire: Why We Want What We Want by William B. Irvine from the philosophy section at a local bookstore. In the mood for melancholy reflection, I was surprised to discover that the book is an academic disposition on the origin of desire grounded in solid research. Besides the usual suspects - the philosophy and manifestation of desire, the religious advice, etc. - Irvine's book features two sections on the science and psychology of desire, which direct the readers to a much more objective view on the subject. (Warning: they're very dry and repetitive to read, if you're thinking of giving this book a go) There're often clinical explanations for the way we feel about the world, and what we want may stem from areas of our subconscious that are totally unrelated to our current circumstances and quests. Some of our inappropriate/wrong desires are practically out of our control--they're beyond our rational mind and will to curb. They're what we are and they're not what we think we are.
Those who're looking for solutions to dealing with their desires won't find the answers in this book, unless they're ready to accept the good old advice: "Be happy with what you have." That said, there's one section which will bring consolation to certain readers: The Eccentrics.
With reference to Diogenes and Thoreau - two famous philosophers in history - research findings and other scholarly writings, Irvine speculates that eccentricity is one possible key to happiness. Eccentrics are nonconformists who refuse to relinquish sovereignty over themselves: they have their own vision of what's valuable in life. Their status as social failures - and financial failures - doesn't bother them, since they don't have the social desires of winning others' admiration and their material desires tend to be minimal. Life is a constant source of delight, as typical eccentrics are passionately devoted to not one idea, enterprise or hobby, but half a dozen obsessions. Flaunting a buoyant self-confidence, the eccentrics are comfortable in their own skin, and appear far more able than most adults to experience joy.
And here comes the bad news: either you're born with a capacity for eccentricity, or you're not. In the words of French encyclopedist Denis Diderot, eccentricity requires a degree of courage and self-reliance that can't be learned. The findings of neuropsychologist David Weeks point to the same conclusion: the majority of his eccentrics knew they weren't like other people by the age of 8.
Does that sound familiar to you? Or is it simply frustrating, intimidating, or even crushing to read that you're denied this one implausible hope?