|Buddha (Source: Wikimedia Commons).|
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are these: (1) Suffering ('dukkha') exists. (2) Suffering arises from attachment to desire. (3) Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases. (4) Self-awakening and freedom from suffering ('nirvana') are possible by practising the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path.
It's abundantly clear that there's no end to the stress, anxiety and suffering we all experience from birth till death. Yes, life can be full of joy, pleasure and delight, but it can also be racked with hurt, illness and disappointment. Life is constantly changing; it's worryingly impermanent, random, often without any apparent stability and order; there seems to be no inner substance to things, no resolution to the painful difficulties which perpetually confront us. Buddhism looks dispassionately at this truth about suffering, accepts it, but is not pessimistic about it. Buddhism offers a practical answer.
The answer revolves around our understanding and analysis of our desires and cravings. Some cravings are necessary, natural, basic to our very existence, such as our cravings for food, drink and warmth. Without food, drink and some degree of warmth engendered by clothing and shelter we would soon die. I'll also include the sex drive in these basic cravings — without sex we would not individually die, but we would eventually die out as a species.
However, these basic life-or-death cravings and many other secondary cravings (e.g. for power, prestige, fame, influence, possessions, material goods, spiritual fulfilment, love, companionship, money, happiness, a new job — the list is endless) can easily get out of control and become a tyranny. For instance, an excessive craving for food (and it's very easy to become addicted to wanting more and more sugar, salt or fat) can lead to ill-health and obesity; an excessive craving for drink can lead to alcoholism; an excessive craving for warmth and comfort can lead to over-indulgent, over-protected, over-upholstered, artificial and unfulfilled lives (all those cars and over-heated, ill-ventilated homes in which we insulate ourselves from the real world, all those meaningless toys and gadgets!); and an excessive craving for sex can lead to sex addiction. My own experience is that over-indulgence in any sort of craving leads to unhappiness and an unpleasant feeling of lack of control.
Buddhism teaches us to recognise that our desires and cravings are the cause of our unhappiness. When we understand this (the recognition may come in a sudden flash like many Buddhist moments of realisation), and are aware that we can exert some influence over them, we feel free, liberated, relieved, more confident, more in control. We take charge of ourselves, rather than it being our desires and cravings which always have the upper hand.