The difference between wanting and desiring is something that is often overlooked when talking about both love relationships and sources of motivation.

Distinguishing between these two psychology-related concepts can help us organize our lives in a way that makes sense. Not being able to understand the nuances and differences between emotions can lead us to make totally avoidable mistakes.

The differences between wanting and desiring

No, wanting and desiring are not the same, even though many people believe they have the same meaning. Let’s see how we can distinguish them in everyday life in a simple way of understanding.

1. Desire arises from loss

When we desire something, we do so from a tension or discomfort that arises from the fact that there is something missing in our lives (or at least perceived as absent even though it should be part of our daily lives).

An easy way to understand this difference between wanting and desiring may be to compare it to grief, in which we feel sadness and anxiety at the loss of something that was meaningful to us.

Of course, grief is something very intense that we unequivocally associate with discomfort, not as in desire; but in both psychological phenomena there appears the notion that something should be there and yet is not.

On the other hand, when we want something, this characteristic is not present; it is very common to want something that we had never imagined would be of interest to us .

2. Wanting responds to a simple strategy, desire to a complex one

When we want something, we usually elaborate relatively structured and complex strategies to reach that goal, since we understand that to achieve that we need to invest in it a significant amount of time, effort and resources .

On the other hand, when we want something, the most common thing is that we think of a simple way to achieve it, for example, it is typical to consider investing money in acquiring a material good that is in itself what interests us, without the need to attribute any other property beyond those that it objectively possesses.

3. Desire is autobiographical

Since buying and selling is the classic process by which we obtain concrete goods and services that are relatively easy to describe and understand, many times when we want something we automatically think of the way to get it through one step : the economic transaction in the market.

At the same time, the vast majority of products on the market are mass-produced, to meet an objective need that is shared by many people.

If what we want is really an object of desire, it would be much more difficult to find it as we need it , since we have to fill a void whose reason for being is what we have gone through in our lives.

Desire is something much more unique, belonging to each individual, while wanting is not so unique, and that is why a simple advertisement can arouse the same interest in thousands of people from very different socioeconomic backgrounds.

The implications for love life

As we have seen, desire leads us to look for something that fits in with the autobiographical story we have created through the process by which we interpret everything that has happened to us throughout our lives, while the action of wanting responds to a much more spontaneous feeling that leads us to direct our attention to simple needs that are easy to understand by anyone else.

Therefore, in love, the ideal is to find a balance between wanting and desiring. If we only desire, we run the risk of imposing on the other person a story about what she is, one that fits only with our vision of her, whereas if we only want the relationship she can give us, the bond will be superficial and easy to destabilize .

Its marketing implications

In the world of marketing and advertising it is also important to know the differences between wanting and desiring, since in the vast majority of cases we try to satisfy a need through wanting .

However, in certain cases, one can try to appeal to desire by suggesting abstract qualities that fill a common void in a certain segment of the audience, of potential buyers. Of course, it will never fit exactly into the void of a particular person, but it will allow the imagination of the people for whom these campaigns are designed to do the rest.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cacioppo, J.T & Gardner, W.L (1999). Emotion. “Annual Review of Psychology, 191.
  • Kawabata H., Zeki S (2008). The Neural Correlates of Desire. PLoS ONE. 3 (8): e3027.