As a recovering evangelical who spent 30+ years as a practicing Southern Baptist, I must acknowledge that I am not well versed on eastern philosophies or religions. At the religious university where I got my undergraduate degree, we were required to take two semesters of biblical studies but nothing beyond that as I recall. In recently coming across a quote by the Dalai Lama about the world having enough “successful people” but needing more peacemakers, I was reminded how little I know or understand about Buddhism. In search of a book for Buddhism newbies that is accessible to a lay person, I quickly identified The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Tich Nhat Hanh as a good resource from which to start. Hanh was a Buddhist monk with a notable influence on the Western practice of Buddhism who recently passed away at 95 years of age. He’s known as the “father of mindfulness” and was a strong proponent of deep listening which he contended could help relieve another person’s suffering and was key to nonviolent conflict resolution. 


I am only about halfway through the book, but its emphasis on and exhortation against craving is a lens through which I’ve been viewing my life, actions, thinking, and the broader world over the last week. Oftentimes, we – or at least, I – think of food or drink when we think of craving. I used to crave Oreos, crusty French bread, and lasagna from Stoneground Kitchen in downtown Salt Lake (it’s even outstanding when reheated the next day, and I abhor reheated pasta!). More recently, I crave a glass of red wine at the end of my work day or quiet time by myself since two construction crews have landed right outside my home office in the last few months.  

However, the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching and thus Buddhism itself cautions against craving. Why? Because craving leads to suffering – to pain, to agony, to discomfort, to distress. When we crave something – food, drink, relationships, respect, fame, money, power, control, health – we give that thing, person, or experience power over us. Power over our happiness. Power over our minds. Power over our energy. Power over how we spend our time. Power over what gets our attention.

Stop Creating Your Own Suffering!

There is much suffering in life that we cannot avoid, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual in nature. Getting laid off from a job. Learning of our own cancer diagnosis or of that of a loved one. Losing our home and possessions to a fire or flood. Facing betrayal by a significant other, family member, friend or colleague. Getting in a serious car accident because another driver was distracted, being careless or made an error in judgment. Experiencing the death of a child. There are numerous opportunities for suffering in our lives that we don’t play a role in bringing upon ourselves. Yet perhaps there is even more opportunity to thoughtlessly bring suffering, pain, distress, or discomfort upon ourselves through craving. 

Buddhism suggests that to prevent this avoidable suffering we must shun craving. This is because when we crave, we create our own suffering. Even craving arguably noble things like honesty, loyalty, love, acceptance, admiration, respect, independence, courage and confidence can be a slippery slope to suffering when we desire them too strongly. Instead of craving them, we should consider framing them as “It would be nice to have honesty from the people to whom I am close.” instead of “I must have honesty in my relationships or the sky will fall down!” We cannot control others, though some of us work mightily to do so. We may appreciate honesty but to expect or demand it puts the responsibility of our happiness on another’s shoulders where it does not belong and where it leaves us with little influence or control. It also sets us up for suffering. When we learn someone has been dishonest, disloyal, unloving, unaccepting, lacks admiration or respect for us, tries to limit our independence, or we realize we lack courage or confidence, we are likely to suffer on a mental, emotional or physical level. 

My Craving

I realized recently that I crave loyalty. Whether it is loyalty in my significant other, family members, friends, and colleagues, my brain says that I must have that. Then when I don’t perceive that I’m getting that loyalty, I am CRUSHED. Crushed to the point of laying awake much of the night trying to figure out what I did to earn that betrayal and what I can do to regain that person’s loyalty. Laying awake staring at the ceiling wondering if I should try to address the issue and seek to restore the relationship or whether it’s time to let it go. I’ve come down on both sides of that question, depending on the relationship and situation. 

However, in digesting the 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism that focus on suffering, I realized that craving loyalty is just bringing me suffering. Pain that I didn’t ask for, but then again, maybe I did because I tend to value loyalty too much. I crave it. I tend to see it as essential. None of us is honest or loyal or courageous 100% of the time. Not to others and not to ourselves.


The truth is that many noble traits like honesty, loyalty and love come and go in relationships and in our lives. Even noble traits are impermanent. It is this desire for permanence – a significant other who will always be faithful, a friend who will always be supportive, independence that almost certainly wanes as we get to later stages of life, or honesty from a boss – that relates to craving and suffering. When we crave or even expect permanence, we prime ourselves for suffering. Nothing is permanent. Not health, wealth, relationships, possessions, mental and emotional stability, fame, or esteem. 

To avoid craving, we must accept that everything is impermanent. It is when we crave permanence, with respect to our relationships, our wealth, our health, and any other aspect of life, that we invite suffering upon ourselves. We can’t avoid all suffering. But we can have more peace and freedom in our lives if we avoid craving and thus steer clear of suffering that is self-inflicted. When we acknowledge deeply the impermanence of health, wealth, relationships, abilities, and experiences, we appreciate them more because we know they are fleeting.

Suffering Is Not A Superpower

I should probably have that heading tattooed somewhere on my body as it has been a mantra of mine since 2016. Prior to that, my brain said that suffering was noble, especially if it was framed as suffering in the service of others or to protect relationships or people. It took me many years to finally realize that suffering is not a freakin’ superpower. It doesn’t make us better people. Okay, maybe at times it can make us stronger people, but even that has its limits and those limits are reached more quickly than we often realize. Suffering for suffering’s sake or for the praise, admiration or respect of others leads to bitterness and resentment. Resentment in particular is a relationship killer whether it’s a significant other relationship, or friend or family relationship. 

Want to know what is actually a superpower? Not bringing suffering upon ourselves is a superpower. When we are in pain or distress, we don’t serve ourselves or others well. We are distracted and de-energized. We don’t think clearly. None of that makes the world a better place. To build the superpower of not bringing suffering into our world, we must first avoid craving. Craving even noble traits is sure to bring us suffering. Does that mean we never want anything? No, but it means we want them in a limited fashion. There’s not an urgency or a direness to our desire. Instead there is, “Gee, it would be nice to have…”

My goal this month is to catch myself craving. To develop a stronger and more precise awareness of what I crave, so that I can then be mindful about how to tamp down that “I have to have…!” craving into a “it would be nice to have…” What do you crave that you might develop an awareness of over the next 30 days? How is that craving attracting suffering into your job, your family and other close relationships, or even your hobbies?

Instead of Craving, Do This

Just as importantly as avoiding the craving that results in suffering is to appreciate and be mindful of the present joy and happiness in our lives. I spent about a week with my mom recently who over the last few years has lost all sensation in both of her legs as well as from her rib cage down. This means she is confined to a wheelchair. Living with her for that time has reminded me every day since then that I must focus on the joy and happiness that come from simply being able to get up from my desk to get a cup of coffee without the assistance of another person. To find joy in the fact that I have the mobility to travel and some extra resources to do so comfortably. To notice the happiness that comes from loading the dishwasher, changing the bed sheets or making a visit on foot or by car to the grocery store. I can leave my home unassisted whenever and however I want to. Joy is having peace and freedom to do as we wish. I’m working to appreciate these things, but not crave them. One day, hopefully many years down the road, my mobility will decrease and I’ll need to find joy and happiness in other simple pleasures.

Bottom line: We attract unneeded suffering when we allow ourselves to crave. In stomping on the craving, we free ourselves to be mindful of the joy and happiness that comes from seeing the smile of a loved one, the ability to smell brownies baking in the oven, or to appreciate the relationships that we have now (but that we may not be able to enjoy in the future). By being mindful that everything is impermanent, we allow ourselves to lean into the joy and happiness of the now without craving the permanence that can never be and that only brings us suffering.

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Merideth Thompson

Merideth Thompson, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and speaker, who empowers young women with the skills they need to live a happy, productive life. It is her goal to demystify dense academic studies and data for everyday people so that they can make informed decisions for themselves. 


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