In his teaching of the First Noble Truth, the Buddha asks, “What now is the Noble Truth of suffering?” Answering his own question he cites the forms that human suffering takes, naming such things as sickness, old age, and death along with the sorrow pain, grief, and despair that accompany human decay and loss. “Not getting what you want,” the Buddha says, “is suffering.” What he doesn’t say at the time is that getting what you want is also suffering.
Wanting is generally thought of as wanting something in particular, a specific object or outcome, like wanting a new car or a bigger house, a different job or mate or hair color or personality. Some “wanters” think bigger than others, wanting an entirely different life from the one they’re currently living. Their dissatisfactions are comprehensive and they yearn for a life with more freedom, interest, excitement, adventure, respect, or fame than they’re accustomed to getting. But while wanters always want something specific, I’ve observed that wanting is more a state of mind than it is an attraction to a discrete object. A person with a “wanting mind” is perpetually on the lookout for something to want. It’s a habit of preferring almost anything other than what one already has, a chronic dissatisfaction with one’s circumstance, a persistently distressed mood. A wanting mind is a mind with a predilection toward need.
If wanting is your thing, then it’s easy to see how getting what you want won’t relieve the suffering of not getting what you want. Let’s say that you want to write a novel, not just any novel but a really good novel. You tell yourself that if you could just do that, you’d be satisfied. Suppose then you get what you want. You write just the very novel you had in mind. But since wanting is of your very nature, your satisfaction in having written the novel you’d so desired will be short lived, and your wanting will simply transfer itself to a new object of desire. There’s no satisfaction in having written a novel unless it gets published. And then of course it must get good reviews and sell well. The obvious point here is that wanting and dissatisfaction go hand in hand. And they go hand in hand because wanting is an expression of dissatisfaction. It’s not the lack of the thing wanted but the wanting itself that constitutes the suffering.