Wants vs. Needs

Wants vs. Needs

Needs

As humans, we all have needs that must be satisfied. Here is a quick recap of these needs as explained by renowned humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow:
  • Our physiological needs - food and water.
  • Our safety and security needs - shelter to protect us from nature and a community to protect us from the external environment.
  • Our need for love and belongingness - we must have a partner that we can love and that loves us as well as a circle of friends that we can confide in.
  • Our need for esteem - we must feel important to our group or community (external esteem), but most importantly, we must see the value in ourselves (internal self-esteem).
  • Our need for Self-actualization - we must ultimately feel that we are becoming the person we are supposed to be.

The satisfaction of each of these needs is important, and while they don’t necessarily have to be satisfied in order, we must at least feel confident that we are satisfying a lower need before we are free to satisfy a higher need. These needs are not just important, they are required for our survival - physically, mentally, and emotionally. The feeling we get when we satisfy a true need can be described as enjoyment and even happiness.


And if these needs go unsatisfied for too long we become anxious, depressed, and eventually helpless. Unsatisfied deficiency needs will affect us physically, whereas failing to satisfy our higher (being) needs leads to mental and emotional issues and even psychological pathologies. Our entire existence is based on the satisfaction of these needs.


Read more - Our Hierarchy of Needs


Wants

Wants are desires that when satisfied bring us pleasure and only pleasure, and maybe pleasure disguised as enjoyment. For our ancient ancestors, their environment offered very few resources that could be considered in excess or luxuries. So, for them every want was a need. We might even say that pleasure and enjoyment were almost synonymous for the same reason.


Today, for most of us in the “developed” world, satisfaction of our deficiency needs comes very easily. So easily in fact that most of our deficiency needs have become wants. We can get our required protein intake from a few ounces of hamburger, or from a few more ounces of beans and rice, but instead we might opt for a ribeye at Ruth’s Chris, or maybe the chimichanga at Chili’s. The essentials from the local market are needs, dinner out is a want. Buying a Corolla for transportation to work could be considered a need, but leasing a BMW 7 Series is a want.


For the psychologically healthy individual, not getting what we want could be just the motivation needed to make us work a little smarter, a little harder, or a little longer. The desire for better things in life is what has propelled modern society forward for thousands of years. In many cases, it has provided a safety net for those close to us as well as the less fortunate in our community.


The problem is when not getting what we want leaves us feeling dejected, unsuccessful, or even as failures. Failing to get what we need in life should be a call to action, but it should not feel like failing to get a want. When it does, it might be because that want is disguised as a need. Knowing the difference may not matter if we have the income to make it not a difference, but if we are struggling to meet wants, knowing the difference could allow us to move on.


Conclusion

Understanding the difference between a need and a want is maybe one of the most important things we can do to allow us to create a path for ourselves that is attainable and sustainable for the rest of our lives. Failing to understand the difference can leave us stuck on the treadmill of our lower needs, unable to work on the satisfaction of our higher needs.