“Do you know what you want?”

“Do you know what you want?” was the question asked by one of the students in the cross-cultural psychology class during a heated discussion about students’ preferences on cultural orientations and practices.

A sense of deep realization dawned on every member of the class at that moment. Often, we ask and answer a wrong set of questions. But asking and answering right questions about life (and issues about life) invariably assist in enhancing the quality of living.

“Knowing what I want” seems to be the pre-requisite to answering questions that relate to other important aspects of human existence. If it is true that humans are beings of choices and active decision-making, then, every individual must realistically ask him/herself the question, “what do I want?” before answering “what is my decision?”

The immediately response to this profound question when asked by the students was… can you guess?

Yes, NO response! Everyone kept quiet. Suddenly, the class felt like they were facing the toughest question ever. Why was this so?

Most of us lack the ability and nerve to answer this question with certainty (at any given time) because we have never asked it to ourselves before. We go about making general and specific life decisions without asking the pre-requisite question (“What do I want?”) and answering it with conviction. We have become used to making decisions that we (in actuality) didn’t want to make. Most often, we decide to do something because, “my parents told me to do so” or “I had no other choice” or “I am bound by the norms of the society” or “I can’t do it” or “it’s impossible” or “anything would do.” This applies to both the individualistic and collectivistic societies. This is a phenomenon common to all humans, regardless of their gender, age, country, education, and status.

My own analysis is that people find it difficult to answer the question, “What do I want?” because they are not in touch with themselves (at least not completely or in the way they should be) as yet! I remember the motto of a friend of mine – know thyself. She strongly believes that many of life’s problems can be sorted out or dealt with in a more constructive manner if we only “know ourselves”. Being in touch with who we are, what we are made out of, what we are capable of, where we are headed, and what makes us happy or sad helps us to be realistic in assessing and responding to a variety of life situations and challenges.

When I know who I really am, every decision that I make will reflect my own conceptualization and view about life and the world around me. Developing into a whole person, who possesses a distinct ‘self’ from other ‘selves’ is the ultimate goal of a human life. Without knowing, accepting, and being happy with who and what one is, he/she cannot become a functional and contributing member of the larger society.

However, according to the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung, obtaining a complete and relatively accurate knowledge/picture of “who I am” may take a lifetime. Hence developing a sense of a “whole self” is tedious and demanding. Nevertheless, it is imperative to realize that people who actively make decisions and are happy with them are those who know themselves and are aware of what they really want. They are deliberate in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Their choices and the outcomes of their decisions produce a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Even when things are not rosy, they are chirpy and sparkling because they own their choices and are prepared to face the consequences for all their undertakings. These individuals spread joy in the midst of sadness, encourage in the midst of disappointment, act in the midst of crisis, and strengthen in the midst of pain. They choose to walk on a particular path only after having thought about it thoroughly. Their personalized decision is unwavering despite the type of outcome (positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable, pleasant or unpleasant) they face thereafter.

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