What Do People Want?
What do people want? What drives people to make the decisions they make? What is at the core of the choices that people make in their lives? What are people basing their decisions on?
In order to draw up a thesis, let’s contrast two model situations:
Joe is walking down the street and he finds a wallet. He opens it up and discovers $500 inside. Joe thinks to himself, “Not bad for a day’s walk in the park.” Then Joe notices something on the other side of the wallet – contact information – name, number, and email. Now Joe finds himself in a personal dilemma: “Should I give the wallet back or should I keep it?” Joe ponders. Ultimately, Joe decides to keep the wallet.
Jane is walking down the street and she finds a wallet. She opens it up and discovers $500 inside. Jane thinks to herself, “Not bad for a day’s walk in the park.” Then Jane notices something on the other side of the wallet – contact information – name, number, and email. Now Jane finds herself in a personal dilemma: “Should I give the wallet back or should I keep it?” Jane ponders. Ultimately, Jane decides to give back the wallet.
In these two models, we find two people responding to the same situation in bipolar opposite ways – Joe keeps the wallet and Jane gives the wallet back. However, I would like to suggest that they are both doing these bipolar opposite things for the same basic reason – which is that they both want to get the most pleasure, joy, and happiness out of life.
Joe keeps the wallet because he wants to get the most pleasure, joy, and happiness out of life, and he thinks keeping the wallet is going to help him get it. And Jane gives back the wallet but she is taking the pleasure of being good, feeling good, doing those things that society has conditioned her to believe to be good, and she feels the collective conceptual pat on her back from her society and that makes her feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It comes out from the contrast of these two models that what drives our decisions and is at the core of our choices – whether we are Joe or Jane – is that we want to get the most pleasure, joy, and happiness out of life.
Getting the Max
Now, if getting the most pleasure, joy, and happiness out of life is the goal, the next question becomes: What options do we have for achieving this goal?
When we take a look around the world, we find that there are all sorts of pleasure options out there – sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, etc.
However, there is something that all of these pleasures have in common: they are all finite – they are all within the limitations of time and space. You get a high, but you come down from that high. Now, if my life-goal is to achieve the ultimate in terms of pleasure, joy, and happiness, I am left to ask, “Is there anything that goes beyond the limitations of the finite?”
Of course, as explained in previous articles, there is in fact something that goes beyond the limitations of the finite – the Infinite. And, therefore, if I really want to get the most pleasure, joy, and happiness out of life, what I am really after is to create and facilitate a relationship, association, and affiliation with the Infinite Being.
However, don’t think that just because I want to build a close connection with the Infinite I don’t want to get the finite as well. On the contrary, I want to get all pleasure – I want the Infinite and I want the finite. Therefore, the only time I’m ever going to pass on any kind of pleasure is if my partaking in the “lower” finite pleasure would come in the way of my accessing the “higher” Infinite pleasure; then, in that case, I will forgo the finite for the sake of it not getting in the way of my accessing the Infinite.
The Root of Our Choices
The truth is that every choice we ever make in our lives is based on the calculation we just laid out. Every choice boils down to the choice between different “levels” of pleasure.
For example, “Big Man on Campus” is with a different girl every night. Then, one day, he decides that, although he enjoys the base physical pleasure he is involved in, he’d like to begin a committed loving relationship with a particular woman.
However, in order to build such a relationship Big Man must forgo a whole lot of that base physical pleasure he has been involved in up until now. After all, were he to continue his present lifestyle, it would undermine his capacity to build that committed loving relationship.
Fast forwarding, let’s say we were to revisit Big Man ten years later. He is happily married with a couple of kids, but we find him temporarily leaving his wife and kids in a tearful goodbye to go fight for an ideal or cause that he believes in or deems necessary.
Here too, he is making the choice between the pleasure of a committed loving relationship as primary in his life and the pleasure of doing something he sees as more meaningful or worldly as primary in his life.
It comes out that the choices we make are essentially choices between different levels of pleasure, joy, and happiness. The idea in Judaism is that at the top of this list is to build and facilitate a relationship, association, and affiliation with the Infinite Being.
The question that now arises is, if I want to build and facilitate a relationship with the Infinite, how do I do that? How does one create a relationship with a Being that is Infinite?
Here is where the Kabbalists kick in… and here is where we will pick up in the next article…
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after cutting edge international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. His recently released #1 Amazon’s Best Seller, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism, has won wide acclaim as one of the clearest, most comprehensive, easily accessible, and practical depictions of Kabbalah and the “whys” of Judaism.