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The Difference Between Yearning and Wanting

How often do you use the word “want”? Probably a good deal. What about the word “yearn”? Is there a difference between yearning and wanting? According to Drs. Judith and Bob Wright, founders of the Wright Foundation and Wright Living, there most certainly is. (“How to understand and handle an abusive boss” by Lindsey Novak, At Work, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/4/17, D15)
This topic is particularly relevant for dysregulated eaters who have food wants galore and often unmet yearnings. The Wrights tell us that wanting stimulates dopamine, generating that temporary rush you feel when you get what you desire. “Yearning, on the other hand, is paramount to one’s survival. When yearnings are met, one’s system is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals.” They’re saying that the high from getting what we yearn for is far better than the quick fix from satisfying a mere want.
This idea makes me think about pride, which is that all-over grand emotion that warms our hearts when we’ve done something wonderful for ourselves or others. You may get a quick boost of dopamine from eating chocolate cake, but you’ll be awash with pride and satisfaction when you do everything you can to make or keep yourself healthy.
The Wrights lay out our universal yearnings: “To be secure, love and care for, and respond to others; To relate, see and be seen, know and be known, to connect; To have one’s existence appreciated, To express one’s essence, sense of self and potential; To matter; To be connected with others; and To connect to something greater than oneself.” They maintain that, “Meeting one’s yearnings is the road to true satisfaction.”
Yearnings are powerful and arise in therapeutic discussion whenever clients start off talking about what they actually wanted when they thought they were craving food. They want to be heard, live out their potential, connect, belong, matter, and love and be loved. These are what they’re really after when they think they want a bag of cookies or a whole pizza for themselves. However, because it’s harder to get what they yearn for than to access a want that’s easy to satisfy, dysregulated eaters often settle for less.
Yearning has brought me everything that is wonderful and meaningful in my life. It represents all that is basic to happiness, contentment, security, joy and satisfaction. Beware: Yearnings are not goals; they’re much deeper and carry within them far more power to make our hearts sing and keep on singing. Next time you think you want a brownie or a bag of Reeses Pieces, make sure that’s truly what you’re craving and that you’re not yearning for something more intrinsic and crucial to your life.