Researchers now say the key to happiness is wanting less. If you don’t want much, the theory goes, you won’t be disappointed. According to Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, the abundance of choices today leaves us feeling less satisfied overall. We’re also more demanding of the choices we do make, blaming ourselves when anything goes wrong.
Schwartz has a point, but the conclusion changes when you add Jesus into the equation. As his children, we’re called to want significantly more. Killing or subduing desire may seem honorable, but it won’t take us to where Jesus wants us to be: dependent on him.
Teaching young people to lean into their desires and dreams is important for two reasons:
1. Dreams sometimes come true. Learning to live passionately is an enticing way to relate to a fallen world. One girl who attended a youth camp I directed had a crazy idea of becoming an actress. Years later, she’s won two Oscars. Of course, dreams don’t always come true. But the worst thing isn’t failure; it’s not getting off the couch. The worst thing is playing it safe, which theologian Frederick Buechner says is like not playing at all. It’s like burying our talents in the ground.
2. Leaning into the wind of desire moves us toward the ache only Jesus can fulfill. When things don’t go as planned, we quickly shut down desire or blame ourselves. What if Jesus, amid this disappointment, is inviting us to himself, not to what we thought we wanted? Not wanting much doesn’t allow for this good kind of struggle. When we depend on ourselves to not be disappointed, we orchestrate a world where we’re masters of our pain. We think we’ve diminished its influence, when all we’ve done is just decided to live our lives under the radar. This gives pain lots of power in our lives. Love and pain are closely linked on this side of heaven, so we won’t be very good at love if our main goal is to not be disappointed.
Teach teenagers to risk wanting more, not less. Help them go ahead and dream, because sometimes we get tastes of our dreams here and now. Just remind young people that the best is yet to come.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV).