Human organisms are motivated by psychological drives. A psychological drive is “an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need” (Oxford). If you are hungry, for example, wanting to eliminate or reduce the unpleasant state of hunger is what drives you.
The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) theorized that we have two drives: a drive toward life—includes instinctual impulses to have sex, eat, drink and need for fun (see: Pleasure Principle)—and a drive toward death—includes anti-social behaviour, anger, aggression, hate and violence (good times).
From these drives Freud theorized that personality is a system of three interconnected parts: Id (instinctual part: “Give me now”), Ego (realistic part: “No, I don’t think so”) and Superego (moral conscience part: “You should be ashamed!”).
Id, Ego and Superego are a translation of Es (it), Ich (I) and Ueber-Ich (Over-I). Id is like a horse. Ego is the rider and Superego lambastes Ego for trespassing. As your “ideal” self, Superego conforms to society and prohibits unethical behaviour (Simply Psychology).
Freud saw ego as a good thing. Ego negotiates between human impulses and social standards. There are, however, other ways to look at it.
Cue music: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Man On Fire”.
As a ‘me’ ‘mine’ and ‘for myself,’ we consider ourselves distinct from the world, but if you look closely, you realize: it isn’t true.
If you want inner peace, break free of what Freud says.
Garry Shandling (1949-2016)—a comedian who made loneliness and self-hate funny before turning it into love for the world—said before he died (obviously):
“All my journey is to be authentically who I am. Not trying to be somebody else under all circumstances. The whole world is confused because they’re trying to be somebody else. To be your true self it takes enormous work…. Ego drives the world. Ego drives the problems. So you have to work in an ego-less way. Egolessness, which, is the key to being authentic, is a battle” (The Green Room).
In spiritual circles ego is seen as an enemy and a synonym for “selfishness.”
Psychological drives operate on a feedback control system similar to a thermostat. When a need is satisfied, the drive is reduced. We relax. Eliminate a drive completely and a state of mental balance or psychological equilibrium is obtained.
When we’re calm and comfortable, that’s room temperature. When our emotional temperature changes, we feel tension and an instinctive response to potential conflict.
Some people perpetuate unpleasant states for purposes of enjoyment. They eat when not hungry, drink when not thirsty and enjoy death defying activities like skydiving and the thrill of almost dying (source).
Some people have a drive for lots of money, power, fame or whatever. Such people will experience an unpleasant state of dissatisfaction when they realize that externals don’t matter.
This is hungry ghost territory. This is, as Gabor Maté, M.D., said, “where we seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present” (Hungry Ghosts).
But, don’t worry. It’s normal.
As one seeks to survive in a culture of consumption and comparison in the midst of mass advertising, it’s only natural to want more than is possible. If you get hungry ghost-like—take a deep breath and ask yourself: “Do I have what I need?”
The psychiatrist Shoma Morita (1874-1938) proposed two other drives: a drive to live fully and a drive for comfort and security. Sometimes these drives are at odds.
With eyes on a need yet achieved, there is anxiety and self-doubt. Such feelings cannot be avoided. Emotions are messages.
Avoid or suppress feelings and you disrupt your ability to function. For example, if you are anxious in social situations, the inclination is to avoid them, but avoidance perpetuates a lack of confidence and the very anxiety one is trying to escape. Self-confidence comes with experience. Understand a feeling and take action if need be (source).
Some of us have drives that are difficult to satisfy. Sometimes a drive takes over and we are driven.
The question is: Where are we going?
Many humans—many, many humans probably (in fact)—experience a constant dissatisfaction with life. Their minds have made a judgment: Life is not the way it should be.
It could be that we experience dissatisfaction with life “as it is” because in comparison to life imagined, the life we live falls short of expectations. We try to make life match our ideal by noticing what’s wrong and making changes, but when we achieve what we want, we imagine how life could be even better. We think that once we fix what’s wrong, we’ll be satisfied, but when the “future” arrives, it’s just another dissatisfying moment.
It’s rare for people to feel a deep satisfaction with the way things are. We live as if the present moment is a barrier to the life we’d rather be living. The future we dream of never arrives and herein is the human conundrum.
Most of us live in a world of make-believe—even though we know life isn’t a fairy story. Most of us live a mundane existence in stark contrast to our make-believe world, but take heed: Reality does exist and it’s better than make-believe.
Reality is a world of opportunity, happiness and peace of mind. You might be content within a comfort zone of normal life—happy to take out the garbage, do laundry or whatever (all good stuff)—but there are degrees of happiness.
You could be only scratching the surface. Pay attention to what it feels like or sounds like to be here and now. Do this and you are taken from make-believe to a direct experience of reality. You start seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and tasting the present in a way that you haven’t done since you were a kid.
Like Boston (the band, not the city) said, “People livin’ in competition. All I want is to have my peace of mind, yeah, whoa” (“Peace of Mind“).
Yeah. Whoa. That’s it precisely.