What We Really Want From What We Buy

While a common reaction to seeing a thing of beauty is to want to buy it, our real desire may be not so much to own what we find beautiful as to lay permanent claim to the inner qualities it embodies.
— Alain de Botton

When I was a young boy, my parents took me to my first professional baseball game. A strange sensation that has since occurred many times washed over me. As I climbed the stands, I was saddened because I knew this moment would soon pass. Beauty and beautiful moments can have a paradoxical impact on us. On one hand, they light a fire in our souls, reminding us how good life is. On the other, they remind us that most of life is not like this. Then, we are saddened, yearning for the good, true and beautiful, knowing that beauty is fleeting.

Nobody can prove my next claim, but I think it's true, whether or not it's factual: When we encounter true beauty, we behold something of the Divine. We peer into our deepest potential. We catch a glimpse of Eden, that mythic place of perfection from which we've all wandered and to which we all long to return, whether or not we believe it is a literal place on a map.

We'd give everything we own to live in such beauty, but we cannot. So, we surround ourselves with as much of it as money can buy, yet we are unfulfilled. Why? Because we cannot buy true beauty; we can only behold it.

Owning an object may help us realize our ambition of absorbing the virtues to which it alludes, but we ought not to presume that those virtues will automatically or effortlessly begin to rub off on us through tenure. Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us. What we seek, at the deepest level, is to inwardly resemble, rather than to physically possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.
— Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness p. 152

Could it be that what we really want is not the object we can purchase but the virtue we find beautiful in that object? Its goodness? Its beauty?

If you enjoyed this post, please visit this post I wrote two years ago, which makes the case that what we really need is not ownership but access.



Tommy BrownComment