If Vedanta is right and there is only one reality, then all desires must follow the same mechanics. Desires arise and are fulfilled in consciousness. Making yourself happy involves fulfilling many desires every day; this is also the path of evolution, for as desires become more refined, they lead to higher states of consciousness. It is impossible to achieve any level without wanting to, and impossible to be blocked if the mechanics of desire support you.
If you want a piece of chocolate cake and go to buy some at a restaurant, you are fulfilling your desire exactly the same way as someone who wants a piece of chocolate cake and tastes it in his dreams. That is the point made by Vedanta, and it seems totally improbable to a materialist, who makes a huge distinction between a real piece of cake and a piece of cake in a dream.
Materialism focuses on the object of desire, Vedanta focuses on the source of desire. The only way to prove which one is right is to test the theory of consciousness. How do we do that? Personally, by mapping out the path in our own consciousness that desires follow. If the map is right, then Vedanta must have hit upon a deep truth and not just a pure philosophical whim.
I am going to give a linear description of this path first, even though to be completely true to Vedanta, there is only the "pathless path," which isn't linear at al. Our minds work in a linear fashion, and the path of desire won't seem real unless we can connect the dots between cause ("I want a piece of chocolate cake") and effect ("Ah, here it is.")
Desires pass through four layers of manifestation:
1. The desire appears in your mind.
2. It is processed in the unconscious or subtle body
3. It passes through collective consciousness
4. It is organized cosmically in pure consciousness.
This is the chain of command for every desire, and it follows the Vedic structure of consciousness: the person, the Jiva, Atman, and Brahman. Naturally, these levels of awareness have a great deal in common. Karma, for example, operates for the person and for Jiva, is calculated in Atman, but does not apply to Brahman (unity is beyond action). But I won't go into technicalities here; we want to keep our eye on the prize, which is fulfillment of desire.
1. The personal level. Your desire will come true if you first state it clearly in your mind. Repetition isn't all that important. You don't have to go around saying, "I want a new car" over and over again. But your mind must be clear that it wants the car. Contrary to popular belief, wanting something really, really, really badly doesn't help. Craving and desperation are obstacles, in fact. Clarity is a quieter, more subtle state. It feels right, or even inevitable, to have a particular desire, and the desire is consistent with who you are. (I had a friend whose father despaired all his life that he never got to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I asked my friend if his father ever learned how to sing opera. The answer was no, which says something about the lack of fulfillment in this case!) But of course all kinds of desires are fulfilled without perfect clarity. The more you are clear, the fewer unexpected consequences you will experience when your desire comes back.
2. The unconscious level: When you learn a new word, it gets added to your vocabulary, but you don't see it fit into a slot. The fitting in happens unconsciously. The same is true for any desire. It must fit into your storehouse of desires, which we can call your desire body. In your desire body you've stored beliefs, self-image, various repressed or shadow energies, and the whole history of your self. This is the level where desire hits its first and biggest obstacles, for no matter what you think you want, if your desire body won't compute that desire correctly, you will achieve little or nothing. You might even get failure instead of success. When people quote Murphy's Law (Whatever can go wrong will go wrong) they are actually observing the difficulties thrown up in the desire body.
It's undeniable that the desire body is too complicated to figure out mentally. If you want a new car, it would be staggering task to compute how this one desire fits into your whole history, not to mention the invisible intricacy of your karma. But we can simplify the desire body by saying that if you tell yourself "I want a new car," the desire body will route that intention along either the Yes path or the No path. Not that these paths are completely clear, either, but at the unconscious level you either deny yourself or accept yourself, and this overall self-judgment tells the major story when it comes to desire.
3. The level of collective consciousness: If your desire is allowed to go down the Yes path toward fulfillment, it heads into a subtler level of consciousness, the shared level of groups. The group can be family, community, nation, or the world. If you desire peace for the whole world, then at the collective level you are one intention among billions. If you want your parents not to get a divorce, you are one intention among only a few people.
At this level you can be blocked again. Millions of people may want Hitler to die or for a hurricane not to hit the gulf coast, yet there are larger intents at work. Some people are very sensitive to the collective level--politicians, for example, and great geniuses. A great mind can literally move all of collective consciousness, as Buddha and Christ did.
Here we also encounter myths and archetypes, which help to shape the vision and therefore the desires of a whole race or an entire epoch. But consciousness gets clearer as we approach subtler levels, so here one doesn't meet with obstacles quite so stubbornly. People you consider to be not on your side are totally allied with you at subtler levels. Also, in computing how our desire fits into the overall picture of your destiny, the decision made is totally fair. Hence we find that desire A may not come true, but it leads to an even bigger, more important desire B that does.
4. The level of pure consciousness: At this level everything is coordinated so that your desire can reach some kind of fulfillment. Here there is never an obstacle, never a no. The quantum field will move however it must to accommodate the new intention you have place in it. Naturally, if your desire hasn't made it through the other levels, not much effect will be produced. But something will happen; no desire escapes without affecting the universe.
If this is the actual chain of command for desires, improving your share of fulfillment can be improved on all four levels. There is no linear path but a nonlocal process in which everything is affected simultaneously.
Personal: Become clearer about who you are and what would make you happy. Don't follow external notions of success. Set aside labels of status, money, possessions, and social connections. Look into your psychological issues, especially the points of stress. Examine your beliefs. If a desire doesn't come true, look to yourself for the reason why, but do this without blame or judgment. Consider that you want to improve the mechanics of desire as they exist in you. Don't wish for negative things, because you will only be adding to the obstacles.
Unconscious: Here is the workshop of desire. What is most changeable in you exists at this level, where hidden things can be brought to light. Be open to whatever is happening inside you. Sincerely work on the negative or blocking energies that you find inside. These are
I don't deserve
I am afraid
I am guilty or ashamed
God doesn't care
Everything is set up against me
Nobody is paying attention
I don't matter anyway
Resolve to believe that you are responsible for what happens to you. All kinds of energy work, therapy, hypnosis, meditation, etc. are available to you, but keep in mind that if you intend to achieve clarity, there are thousands of steps in this maze of the mind. What you need to see will appear when you need to see it. Your job is to be alert to anything awareness needs to notice.
Collective: Two things help at this level: First, avoid the drag of group beliefs and don't add to group negativity. Consciousness flows wherever it is called, and if you join with the negativity of any social group, including the family, those energies will come to you. Beliefs are always on the move, attaching to one person, detaching from another.
Second, find a vision of life that inspires you and maintain contact with it. This level of awareness is alive--as are all levels of awareness--and the highest ideals you think about, talk about, and put into action have an effect here. Action in consciousness is powerful, which is why you so often read in the biographies of great men and women that they dreamed in childhood of the very deed they later accomplished. Invisible forces came to their aid, not mystically but from the level of collective need and evolution.
Pure consciousness: At this level there is no action, only being. A law of consciousness says that consciousness becomes more powerful at subtler levels, which implies that at this level, the very subtlest, all power is at your command. How can it be that doing nothing can accomplish everything? The Vedic sages asserted this truth, which must be validated personally. To do that, they pointed to the state of Samadhi, or deep consciousness in which objects and desires disappear. Samadhi isn't a void, however. It is the subjective experience of the womb of creation, a connection to the source.
The deeper your awareness, in and of itself, the more your desires will come true. Patanjali has written the textbook on this subject in the Yoga Sutras, but to simplify things, we can say that as you meditate longer and bring in more Being, the whole mechanics of desire gets clearer. In true Samadhi, where there is no gap between the person and pure consciousness, the path becomes completely pathless. In the absence of a gap, time and space have no effect; you are in a timeless, perfectly organized, universal domain that is nevertheless yourself. Desire and fulfillment are instantaneous and without obstacle.
Thus we have the map of desire given to us in Vedanta. It applies to all intentions, however small and insignificant. If you are willing to put yourself in play as the source and en-point of your desires, you will find that the map becomes more and more useful as your awareness evolves. to me, the greatest gift of this map is that it keeps me focused inward, a huge benefit in a world that is constantly dragging out attention outward.