I once wrote an article called “Kill Your Genie”. The article began by asking, “If a genie appeared, what would your 3 wishes be?” My point was, even if a Genie gave us what we wanted, our immature view of happiness would doom the whole project. If I desire two contradictory things I will suffer. And if my desires contradict the desires of those I love the suffering will multiply.
So, in the article I said, “The formula for happiness is as simple as it is drastic. You must find and kill your genie.” It was a dramatic line but I don’t believe it any more. Now I believe we must train our genies. It’s not as catchy of a title, but much more humane. Desire itself is not bad, but it may set us against each other unless it is placed within a desire for the happiness of all. The furious symphony of ten thousand contradictory desires muddies the waters of our soul and sets us against even those we love, yet we cannot and would not want to live without desires.
Kierkegaard said “purity of heart is to will one thing.” I believe that the greatest thing a human can desire is the common good. When we try to find happiness for ourselves alone, for our families or even our own nation, we build a fissure into the foundation of our happiness. The trick, I now believe, is to start with our immature desires and to broaden and deepen them until they are universal. When we finally realize that human happiness must be shared by all we have learned Kierkegaard’s trick, and outgrown the need for a genie.