The Search for "IT" (What Are We Looking For In Life?)
If life is a search, what is it a search for?
"Whoever strives with all his power
we are allowed to save."
- the Angels in Goethe's Faust
article by LiveReal Agents Thomas and Will
It's a classic situation.
A young boy, breathlessly anticipating Christmas.
- Or well, not "Christmas," exactly; what he's really anticipating is a certain toy.
But not just any toy. THE toy. The toy he's obsessed with. Every day is an agony. Christmas can't get here soon enough.
Finally it arrives.
He gets the toy.
Now fast forward a bit.
Maybe a few months, weeks, or even days or hours.
That toy - "THE" toy - sits there, neglected and alone, in a corner, gathering dust.
Before Christmas, that toy was "IT."
At some point after - maybe a few months, weeks, days, hours, even minutes...that toy is no longer "IT".
Or let's look at another scenario.
Boy meets girl.
Boy immediately falls head over heels in love.
He thinks about her all the time; he courts her; he offers to climb the highest mountain for her, swim the roughest sea for her, etc.
To him, she is "IT".
Finally, she agrees to date him.
Fast-forward a few weeks, maybe even a few months or so.
Now, he's so tired of being criticized by her, he's tired of her moodiness, her flakiness, her superficiality, her seemingly endless lack of responsibility to the point that that he's considering breaking up with her.
At this point...to him, she is no longer "IT".
"Life is just
one damned thing after another."
- Elbert Hubbard
And one last scenario:
A young woman dreams of being married. She's thought about it for as long as she can remember. she's imagined that being married will be "IT."
Finally, one day, she gets married.
Fast-forward a few years.
At least in this scenario (you guessed it): she no longer thinks that marriage is "IT."
In each of these scenarios, the marriage, the girlfriend, even the toy might be wonderful.
At some point the realization can sink in: even a great toy is still "just" a toy. Even a great girlfriend is still "just" a girlfriend (even if she eventually becomes a great wife in a great marriage). Even a great marriage is still "just" a marriage.
These could all be great, wonderful, even better than imagined; yet, at the same time...they aren't "IT".
Rewind back to before it all; before the toy, girlfriend, marriage, these all seemed to be much more.
They seemed to implicitly promise...well, everything. They seemed to represent and embody everything one could hope for in life to the point that it seemed impossible to think of anything else.
They represented, if only on some half-visible, unconscious, unarticulated level, not only true, deep, lasting fulfillment, but something along the lines of total, perfect, permanent satisfaction.
In other words: "IT."
"What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire."
- William Blake
As we mature, grow older, and get more experience in life, and if we're paying attention, we can start to see the pattern more and more. As children, a toy, a birthday, or a trip to Disney is "IT." Soon after, "IT" might be attached to the idea of the ideal mate, sex, marriage, wealth, fame, status, professional success, etc. Later in life, "IT" can become something entirely different.
But the pattern remains the same.
We hope for some future situation that we imagine will be "IT". Then, some time later, whether we actually experience that situation or not, we realize that that situation, as great as it might have been, wasn't actually "IT".
"There comes a times when one asks
even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven,
is this all?"
- Aldous Huxley
It can happen more and more as we get older.
The more situations we explore and experience, the more we can discover that "IT" wasn't really there. We might struggle for years to become famous, only to then complain about the burden of fame. We might work for years or decades to become wealthy, only to discover that wealth comes with a whole new set of burdens, and while it might be preferable to alternatives, it definitely isn't "IT". And so on.
And at some point you might start to wonder: how does this end?
Do we ever find "IT"? The real "IT"?
If it's been proven that there seems to be a long series of "phony" "ITs" - is there a real "IT" anywhere? If so, where?
Or worse...is there some trick going on here? Is this some kind of game?
Is there some infinitely desirable, infinitely mischievous shapeshifter, hiding behind some idealized thing or idea or imagined situation and makes us desire it, chase it, and work for it, possibly for years or decades...and then once we reach it, this mischievous, diabolical shapeshifter dashes away again behind some other thing, idea, situation?
How do we spend our lives chasing things that turn out to be empty? Is there truly some kind of cosmic shapeshifter, taking an infinite variety of forms, endlessly teasing us, endlessly escaping our grasp?
"We are always getting ready to live,
but never living."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
There seems to be a continual pattern of tricking us.
We chase something; we get it; we discover that it isn't "IT". We realize that we had unspoken, unarticulated expectations about that thing we wanted; we expected this to be THE thing. Once we have X, then we'll be happy, satisfied, fulfilled, content. We spend years, decades doing this: chasing something, getting it (if we're lucky), learning that this thing isn't "IT," that thing isn't "IT", then moving on to something new. Repeat.
We can describe all this as a pattern of dis-illusionment.
We start out, younger, full of the "illusion" that "IT" is behind every new toy, fun experience, piece of candy. After we experience that and move on, we realize that "IT" was an illusion, and we drop that illusion - becoming more dis-illusioned.
Eventually, the more we explore and experience in life, and the older we get, the more dis-illusioned we might become. Even if we've led a great life full of thousands of wonderful experiences, we might still wonder...was that it?
Wasn't this all leading up to something...else?
Isn't all this "going somewhere"?
What if it's not actually going anywhere? What if all this is just...it? What if this is all there is?
"There comes a time when one asks
even of Shakespeare,
even of Beethoven,
is this all?"
- Aldous Huxley
And it becomes a problem.
One reaction to all this is to start to wonder...maybe "IT" isn't real. Maybe "IT" doesn't really exist. It's been a phantom illusion, a mirage, all along. And IT doesn't really exist at all.
And we might even ask: is there ANYTHING left that will be fulfilling? That might actually deliver on the promise? That might actually be worth the tease?
It's hard to think about...so the main strategy can become not to think about it, and dive deeper into work, or play, or any kind of distraction. We can call this the "Don't Think About It" approach.
Or another reaction to all this, even darker, could be asking: is life really just a series of empty promises? Is life a series of bait-and-switch tactics, fueled entirely by hope? Is it all a trick played on us by our cosmic, infinitely desirable, infinitely mischievous, yet apparently malevolent shapeshifter? Is hope the mandatory narcotic that fuels us - and is that hope ever gratified?
"It is possible to live only as long as life intoxicates us;
once we are sober we cannot help seeing that
it is all a delusion, a stupid delusion!
Nor is there anything funny or witty about it; it is only cruel and stupid."
- Leo Tolstoy,
quoted out of context (from Confessions)
At this stage of maturation, all-out disillusionment or even depression can sink it. (Perhaps this is why wealthier countries supposedly experience more depression than less wealthy ones). The realization is that the game is fixed: it's all a huge bait-and-switch game; nothing ever fulfills; nothing ever fully satisfies; this game of hope-and-chase is rigged to keep us hopping and chasing all our lives...and it never really pays off. Or maybe, of course, it pays off enough to keep us playing - like a casino - but it never really pays off, for US, fully. It's some kind of galactic, sinister casino, and the house always wins; it only pays off enough to keep the suckers coming.
And so, this strategy consists in rejecting "IT" entirely, and deciding that it's all a sham, an illusion. "IT" exists only to tease; there is no payoff, and anybody who still believes in "IT" is a sucker. The "smart" move, according to this perspective, is to dive into the best, most intoxicating compensation prizes you can, and enjoy them as much as possible. They aren't "IT", but hey, they're all this place offers, and the best we can hope for. Better to have consolation prizes than naive, blind hope. Give "IT" up and enjoy the consolation prizes. Some call it jaded, empty, nihilistic materialism; others call it not being a sucker in a world full of dupes. This is "the futility strategy."
And of course, there's the opposite strategy to the above: deciding that "IT" is real; it does exist, and those who give up on ever finding it are just giving up too soon and settling for consolation prizes while they're missing out on the big payoff. Yet "IT" hasn't been found, yet, and it even seems unattainable right now, in this world, in this life. But "IT" can be realized after death. Or through art. Or through adrenaline, or drama, or some kind of daring adventures. The idealism can't be squashed; it has to continue, even if it's against all reason and prior experience, and has to take the form of absurdism and irrationalism and deliberately just doing stuff that makes no sense. If it keeps the spark alive - the spark of "IT" - it makes total sense. There's a Romantic ideal of the real joy being the anticipation of something; the courtship is the fun part; the consummation is what triggers and initiates the inevitable letdown. This the "the waiting game."
Direction Three, the third and final option: you take a hard, sober look at all of the above, and suspect there's something else going on. Or you even catch on to the game. There's some wizard dangling "IT" just beyond our reach, and we keep chasing it, and he keeps jerking it away. We keep chasing, he keeps pulling away. Some cosmic Lucy-and-Charlie-Brown-football game. Some not-too-nice programmer writing our code in the Matrix. Some Wizard of Oz guy- behind-the-curtain who is putting on a great show, hoping you'll be fooled by his smoke and mirrors.