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Desires are fundamentally different from needs

It’s true that when people strongly desire something, such as a new shirt, they might feel like they ‘need’ it – but they don’t need it in the same way that they need water or food. Their survival isn’t at stake.

Desire (as opposed to need) is an intellectual appetite for things that you perceive to be good, but that you have no physical, instinctual basis for wanting – and that’s true whether those things are actually good or not.




When I think about the lifestyle that I would most like to have, who do I feel most embodies it?

The restlessness of desire is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s what pushes people to seek more – but a persistent feeling of restlessness could be a sign that the desires you are chasing lack the power to satisfy.

Because desire is mimetic, people are naturally drawn to want what others want. Two desires converging on the same object are bound to clash. This means that mimetic desire often leads people into unnecessary competition and rivalry with one another in an infernal game of status ...

It’s useful to recognise what kind of models are influencing you. Girard identified two main types: those inside your world, and those outside it.

French social theorist René Girard realised one peculiar feature of desire: ‘We would like our desires to come from our deepest selves, our personal depths,’ he said, ‘but if it did, it would not be desire. Desire is always for something we feel we lack.’ Girard noted that desire is not, as we of...

Each of us is occasionally overwhelmed by a multitude of competing desires: pursue job offer A or B? Start a new relationship or stay single? Sign up to run a marathon, or enjoy not getting up early to train?

Less extreme mimetic desires might include the desire to go to a specific university because all your friends want to go there. Yet the desire could also have something to do with the school’s academic reputation. Desires can have many different influences, some mimetic and some non-mimetic. The ...

To be anti-mimetic is to be free from the unintentional following of desires without knowing where they came from; it’s freedom from the herd mentality; freedom from the ‘default’ mode that causes us to pursue things without examining why.

Advertisements also model desires to us, obviously, but notice how they usually work: the companies serving the ads typically show you not the thing itself, but other people wanting the thing. Advertisers play right into our mimetic nature.

Is there anyone I would not like to see succeed?

  • Desires are fundamentally different from needs.
  • Desire is a social process – it’s mimetic. Our desires don’t come from within; rather, we mimic what other people want.
  • Identify the people or ‘models’ influencing what you want.
  • Categorise these models. Find out who i...

Your intellectual appetites might include knowing the answer to a mathematics problem; the satisfaction of receiving a text from someone you have a crush on; or getting a coveted job offer.

As well as identifying the specific models influencing your desires, it is also helpful to consider whether you have become embedded in a particular system of desire. For example, consider the chef Sébastien Bras, owner of Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole, France, who had three Michelin ...

Online or offline, the closer someone seems to being like you, the more you can relate to them – and the more you are likely to pay attention to what they want. Who are most people more jealous of?

Be aware that your desires can become hijacked through this process of mimetic attraction. It’s easy to become obsessively focused on what your neighbours have or want, rather than on your immediate responsibilities and relationship commitments.

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