In Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, ‘Objet petit A’, or Objet Petit Autre (Object A) stands for the unattainable object of desire. Simply put, Object A is the thing we think we want, the thing that would make us satisfied if only we could acquire, possess, or achieve it.
For all of us, Object A is different.
Move to a new city.
Traveling with a backpack.
Our Object A is everything we don’t currently have: more money, more possessions, larger home, luxury car, newest gadgets, security, power, status, etc., and thanks to the help of the media, advertising, and peer pressure our Object A is always there, lurking behind the curtains.
What is my object of desire, doesn’t need to be yours, and vice versa. Even when we acquire our Object A, it soon won’t be our Object A anymore, and we’ll move on to the next big thing – the next Object A.
We all have it, and the most insidious part is that our Object A will continue to change throughout our lives. It’s a perpetual cycle of desire and discontent.
Imagine the next scenario.
You really want a new computer, a car, a house, the perfect partner… and you can’t live without it.
You spend days, weeks, and maybe even months researching for it, reading reviews, talking about it to your friends and family, and then when you finally get it, soon it’s the main reason for your discontent.
That computer you couldn’t live without a year ago is now slow and outdated compared to the new model. That luxury car you wanted so badly is now just a car payment and a burden. That oversized house with a white picket fence in the suburbs is nothing more than a bottomless money pit. That perfect partner with whom you imagined your life is now your main reason for stress and discontent.
In time, we realize the things we wanted so much aren’t the things we wanted at all.
We often think that once we acquire, achieve our Object A it will fix all the problems we have. It’s the object that will make your life better: that person you have to be with or that dream job you want more than anything else or that new car you need to have in order to feel alive or that perfect city you have to move to in order to be fulfilled.
Philosopher Peter Rollins said it best when he said that Object A for you is:
But are we that extreme?
Maybe we’ll make tiny sacrifices day after day until one day we don’t even recognize ourselves, and what we made out of our life in order to get our Object A.
As we get older we stop caring about our health bit by bit, we stop exercising and eating healthy, we stop going for regular check-ups; we put on a few kilos each year. We forsake the people we love because we choose to spend more time with coworkers and clients while we advance our careers. We give up on our dreams because they are not as practical and visible as the white picket fence and a luxury vehicle in front of it. We let our life go in pursuit of the American Dream.
When I see it from this perspective, we actually do set fire to our entire existence. A slow burn in exchange for a momentary pleasure, even if it makes us miserable in the long run.
Our problem isn’t desire or Object A or whatever we’re going to call it. Our problem is the belief that the next purchase, the next milestone, the next big thing will bring with it everlasting joy – even though we know, from experience, it won’t.
We’ve all bought that coveted Rolex, or moved to a bigger house in a better neighborhood, or started a new relationship just to be let down on the other side of our desire. But we must know that we cannot tame our desires. Once acquired or achieved, there will always be a new one. And whenever we get what we desire so much, whether it’s a million $, a perfect relationship, or a shiny new object, we’ll always be a little dissatisfied in the end.
Advertisement and media promise to deliver Object A to us – they promise us peace, comfort, and satisfaction so great we will never want anything else – but those promises are not true, and eventually, we will be let down and start searching for our new Object A again. It’s a futile search for something it doesn’t exist and the sooner we acknowledge that the sooner we will be at peace.
Whatever your Object A is, sooner or later will disappoint you and leave you discontented. Stop seeking happiness through it and focus on living a meaningful life. A life where you pursue your deepest dreams and interests, a life where you don’t associate pleasure with contentment, a life where you don’t compare with others, and a life where your short-term actions match long-term values.
For the end I will butcher a quote from Wayne Dyer:
What is your Object A? Let me know in the comments below.
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