Opinion: Just what we need

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Mick Jagger famously reminded us that “You can’t always get what you want.”  The catchy pop tune penned by Jagger and his longtime collaborator Keith Richards reinforces a simple point, one that should have been committed firmly into our collective psyche by early adulthood yet manages to elude us even decades later. Life, it seems, is filled with unrequited hopes and desires. We balance competing priorities, often spanning extreme poles, always living in compromise. Our desire to enjoy a placid domestic life stands in contrast to our fantasy of following Hemingway to an endless sea of adventure. Few of us can afford to drive a monster truck, exotic sports car, custom classic and stylish sedan – we have to pick one, or maybe, if we are lucky, two, and go with it.

As the years pass, we settle comfortably into our choices. Countless studies suggest general human contentment and happiness correspond with age. We become more satisfied with what we have and less envious of what we imagine that we are missing. Still, can we hope to reconcile our imagined lives with the ones that we are actually living? Can the fantasy compete with the reality?

What if The Rolling Stone’s had asserted “You don’t always want what you get” instead of positing their now-famous musing? Many of us must wonder if we are in command of our own expectations sufficiently to unequivocally know what it is that we want. Would it be more honest to admit that we too often wait for life to deliver itself to us – and then we react to it. If ours is an existence of abundant compromise, should we embrace the choices we’ve made or, instead, live in eternal regret over the paths not taken? Or, do we ultimately find that life gives us just what we need?

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