Michael Nielsen tweets:
There's a great line in an otherwise forgotten Reese Witherspoon movie: she asks a psychologist if there's any universally useful advice. He replies: "Figure out what you want, & learn how to ask for it." She replies: "Thanks!" Her face falls: "But both of those are really hard!"
This strikes a bit of a nerve with me. The second part, askng for help, I have always been bad at and while I realized it late, at least I think I have understood it by now. Just to give an example, my time as a PhD student would have gone soo much better if I had gotten over my instinct "not to bother" my supervisor and collegues. The whole thing with coming from a non-academic background probably plays into this, but that's a topic for another time.
Knowing what to want is the more interesting question to me. It is easy to get stuck in believing to want something, then this belief makes it true, in a self-fulfilling way. There are many reasons why we want, and most of them we do not understand ourselves, at least not very well, because even if we think we have good reasons, the chance that they are a rationalization after the fact is quite high. (I am currently re-reading The Elephant in the Brain because of just that.)
There was a time when I envied poeple who knew what they wanted. I think I never really did myself. There are pros and cons to this. For example, keeping the feeling of uncertainty alive made me getting used to and accept it. This can contribute to the continued feeling of wonder about the world and becoming more and more sceptical of people who are too certain of things. Overall this fits nicely with the scientific mindset.
In addition, there is the whole idea of "wanting is suffering" in Eastern philosophy. Being able to want less is a kind of superpower that not only let's you get off the hedonic treadmill, but also cultivate a sense of gratitude which is said to be a major factor in overall happiness. The Stoics were right in this regard.
On the negative side, wanting less and not know what to want can turn you into a drifter, not having an own agenda and simply going along with the flow. Are you fine with others ending up making decision for you instead? If you had more drive yourself, you might have a stronger sense of agency which contributes to life satisfaction. But then again, if you know that the direction of your striving is not really your own choice anyway, what's the point?