Wanting is Better Than Having

Image by Pxhere

It’s hard to admit such a thing, but I’ve always been disappointed in Christmas. Even as a kid. Oh, seeing my family is good. Opening the presents is fun. I would be remiss if I said I don’t appreciate the gifts. Giving my own makes me feel virtuous all over. But, when all is said and done, all is said and done. There’s nothing to look forward to for another year, Christmas-wise. The beautiful wrappings, which were exciting strewn under the tree, with all their colors and promise, are now reduced to clutter, garbage to be cleaned up and tossed into the bin. In a few days, the tree will go, too, and look pathetic leaning outside after its needles fled. Someone would lose their temper; not badly, but enough to put a gloom over the gaiety. The gifts themselves would not change my life to any great degree. I would still be an awkward lonely kid. When the Holiday break was done, I would still need to go to school and later, to work.

The best part of Christmas, I always thought, is the preparation and potential. I made my wish list, told Santa want I wanted and, until Christmas Day came, my desire was sharpened by anticipation. Except for untangling the lights, which was and is pure aggravation, trimming the tree is the highlight of the season. Each ornament evokes memories that had been packed away and forgotten. It’s no different these days, even though I’m no longer a kid. I’d just as soon skip Christmas because of the letdown it brings. Maybe if we actually got the original Christmas promise, peace on earth and good will to men, maybe if Christ actually returned, riding on the clouds of glory to wipe every tear from our eyes, I’d be satisfied; but all we get is a sugarcoated imitation.

    It shouldn’t be this way. Having Christmas should be better than wanting it, or else, why would I want it? Since I was a kid, I’ve learned that wanting is better than having, but you must work towards having or you would never want in the first place.

    Wanting is better than having a lot of other things beside Christmas. You wanted that job but hated it once you got it. You pursued that mate, but as soon as you married, you spotted his flaws. You were excited to party but got hung over the next day. For years, you looked forward to retirement, but got bored with your rocking chair. You thought you’d be relieved when you Googled that lump, but something told you it might be cancer.

    Having ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, but what’s so great about wanting? Wanting organizes the mind. It makes concrete my indefinite desires. I can believe that, if I get that bike for Christmas, I’ll be happy. But if I get that bike for Christmas, I’ll find that happiness can’t be bought with a bike. I was happier when I thought it was that easy. I was happier wanting a bike than having it.

    I didn’t know it when I was a kid, but before Christmas and after Thanksgiving, there’s a whole other holiday that hasn’t been taken over by commercialization. I’m talking about Advent. I thought I knew about Advent because I had an Advent calendar. Every day I’d open up a new little door on the calendar and get a small piece of candy. On Christmas, I would open a big door and get a big piece of candy. I thought that’s all there was about Advent, but no. Advent is about wanting.

    It’s probably not an accident that Advent occurs in what, for the Northern Hemisphere, is the darkest time of the year. It’s not the coldest time of the year, but we’re not used to the cold yet. It’s when seasonal affective disorder just gets going. As far as seasons go, it sucks. It’s no wonder people ignore Advent and rush into Christmas, or, for that matter, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Festivus. Anything is better than anxiously waiting in the dark and the cold, right when everything seems so bleak. Chase the dark away with strings of lights. Open your presents early, break into the eggnog, set the yule log ablaze, and go see Santa.

    But, no, I say. Practice wanting. Dwell in the dark and the cold. Observe not knowing whether anything will change.

    Not every holiday is about fun and games. Memorial Day is about sacrifices. On Martin Luther King Day, we acknowledge racism. There are dead people on Halloween. On Pearl Harbor Day and 9/11, we recognize national vulnerability. Yom Kippur is devoted to reviewing sins. On Sukkot, Jews pretend they’re homeless. Passover is awash in blood. Ramadan is a month of spiritual detox. I propose that we practice wanting because wanting, when done well, is important, as well as a source of perverse pleasure.

    For one, to judge from behavior in grocery lines and traffic jams, lots of people need to get better at wanting. Maybe you’re one of them. Learn to be patient through intentional practice.

    Second, when things finally arrive, they’re better when you’ve wanted them. Think of how foreplay improves sex.

    Three, if you’re really wanting, if you’re depressed, anxious, lonely, embattled, overlooked, passed over, taken for granted, or long-suffering, Advent is a holiday devoted to you. It’s your special time, sanctified for you. All your wanting is dignified, lifted, and honored.

    Finally, even if you want nothing, celebrating Advent helps you understand those who do. It helps you be more sensitive, more responsive, and less obnoxiously privileged.

    How do you observe Advent? You can open little doors if you want, but I think there are more meaningful ways to observe it. In terms of the Christian calendar, you observe Advent by holding off on Christmas. Or, in other words, sitting with whatever feelings arise when you need something you haven’t gotten yet. These are important feelings that must be given their due.

    Let me break it down a little more. Let’s say you’re a lonely person. You want to have a friend. Having a friend would be like Christmas to you. If you skipped the equivalent of Advent and went right to the equivalent of Christmas, you’d call up everyone you knew and keep them on the phone longer than they wanted to talk. You’d bend the ear of everyone you met and tell them your life story. You’d put up with all kinds of abuse and demands just so you could say you have a friend. None of this would go well and you’d end up more friendless than you were before.

    If having a friend would be the equivalent of Christmas, then the equivalent of Advent would be not having a friend but wanting one. Observe not having a friend. Celebrate it. I’m not saying you have to like it; I’m saying that wanting a friend prepares you to have one.

    Here are some things you can do while you’re wanting, to make your wanting more endurable:

    1. Identify just what is important about what you want. What is important about friends? What do you need them for? The only way to know what it’s really like is by being without.
    2. Get ready for having. You’re not going to find a friend sitting alone in your room, or if you have nothing to share, or if you are so needy, selfish, or crazy-looking that you scare everyone away. Don’t expect the world to give you what you have never asked for.
    3. Expect having. Nothing is built unless it’s imagined. No one finds what they’re not looking for. Don’t say that no one can possibly be your friend. Visualize, plan, and initiate friendship.

    That’s how you can want well. Identify, get ready, and expect. This makes your waiting worthwhile, and it helps you better enjoy having.

    Published by Keith R Wilson

    I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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