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Ronald Alexander Ph.D.
Ronald Alexander Ph.D.

The Wanting Mind of Depression & Unhappiness

Learn about the wanting mind of unhappiness and how to feel more satisfied.

As a therapist in Los Angeles I’ve seen more than my share of patients who are dealing with various forms of depression and unhappiness. One common personality trait I’ve found with them is their unwholesome thoughts and beliefs that come from what I call the “wanting mind.” In wanting mind, we feel that our current state of unhappiness can only be cured if we have more money, recognition, fame, or power. Often we cause ourselves needless suffering when we ache for something that lies out of our grasp such as a better job, relationship or recognition or cling in vain to something that has already passed away. Wanting mind can also keep us tenaciously holding on to something negative: an unwholesome belief about how things ought to be or should have been, or an unwholesome emotion such as anger, sadness, or jealousy.

When we’re in a state of wanting mind, we’re never satisfied, no matter what we have. If we attain the object of our longing, we simply replace the old desire with a new one. If we achieve revenge, we feel worse than we did before. The problem is that wanting mind is rooted in the incorrect belief that something outside of ourselves is the key to lasting happiness so we look there for the solution. The reality is that no emotion or state of being, however strong, is permanent and that happiness can’t be found outside of ourselves only within. Buddhists call this phenomenon of endless wanting and dissatisfaction the “hungry ghost.”

Now I realize that one can never completely avoid the wanting mind or any other hindrance. Desire is part of being human. It causes us to strive toward bettering our lives and our world, and has led to many of the discoveries and inventions that have provided us with a higher quality of life. The extreme though is despite all that we can achieve and possess, we become convinced that we won’t be happy or contented unless we acquire even more. This unwholesome belief can lead to competitiveness and feeling resentful toward, or envious of, those who seem to have an easier life.

The real antidote to suffering marked by the quality of wanting is not to achieve a temporary panacea but to experience satisfaction in this moment, exactly as it is. Only by experiencing satisfaction right now can you open yourself up to the type of creativity that will help you see what you have to do to bring about better circumstances. The following mindfulness meditation can be used to replace feelings of envy and desire with the more wholesome feeling of satisfaction.

Satisfaction Meditation

Sit in a meditative posture, focusing on your breathing and saying “in” and “out” for each respiration for several minutes until you feel that you’re in a state of calm mindfulness.

Visualize yourself sitting at a table with a large glass of clear, sparkling water before you. Feel your thirst, your lack, your wanting.

Reach for the glass and begin to drink from it. As you drink, this magic glass never empties. You feel the sensation of cool, satisfying water quenching your thirst as you drink. Drink with deep, satisfying gulps until you feel sated.

Now, become aware of a beam of warm, energizing light, a light of infinite knowledge and wisdom, shining all around you and infusing you with all that you’ll ever need to know. Radiate in this light of wisdom, becoming one with it.

As you experience the sensation of being satisfied, feel yourself glowing with white light. Know that you are an illuminating beacon, shining brilliantly with the light of wisdom, love, and acceptance. Feel it inside of you, radiating outward. You have more than enough light inside of you. Experience it. Notice what it feels like to be satisfied, to be so filled with light that it flows forth from you, giving you a deep sense of satisfaction.

Remain present with this feeling of satisfaction until you’re ready to open your eyes and end your meditation.

An alternative image you may want to use during this meditation is that of stretching your treelike roots downward, breaking through hard soil to reach the sustenance of groundwater deep in the earth. Again, imagine yourself drinking in all that you need until you are satisfied.

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership training in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (

About the Author
Ronald Alexander Ph.D.

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., is the director of the OpenMind Training Institute, and teaches at UCLA, Pepperdine, and Pacifica Graduate Institute.