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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

N is for Needs (not wants)

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

How is a need distinguished from a want?

How often have we heard a child say “I need this?” or even an adult too when it is clearly something that they 'want' rather than something that they 'need' and would die without?

A need and a want are two distinct things but we often conveniently interchange the two words to suit ourselves. Differentiating between needs and wants is not easy as we are constantly being bombarded with advertising. Marketing, was created to shape our needs and wants by influencing our mind set. The inability to differentiate between needs and wants causes many people to spend their money without thought and without ever really satisfying their needs.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed”.

Mahatma Gandhi

Needs are essential, elemental things that we need to survive physically, mentally and emotionally whereas wants are basically things that we desire. The word ‘essential’ effectively distinguishes the difference.

Our needs can be broadly categorized into three groups: Those concerned with the physiological and safety, psychological needs and self- fulfilment needs.

A want on the other hand is something that a person desires and the level of importance attached to the want will vary from person to person.

Another important distinction between a need and a want is that wants can change over a period of time, whereas basic needs remain constant throughout a person’s lifetime.

All our choices are essentially on a sliding scale between ‘essential needs and ‘desirable wants’. As we become better at differentiating between our wants and needs we will more discerning about prioritising our time (as every purchase has a time-cost implication) as well as being more appreciative of what we already have.

Gratitude turns what we have into enough” Aesop

By developing an attitude of gratitude we change our perspective and focus on expanding the positives in our life, rather than dwelling on the negatives.

Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance” Eckhart Tolle

Gratitude is not only about feeling and expressing appreciation for all we do have (however much or little that may be) but it is also about being grateful for all the things that have not gone wrong that could have!

Gratitude also has wider social implications e.g. it reduces materialism by reducing the energy we put into trying to obtain things that don’t really matter and transfers our energies into spending quality time with people and building meaningful and healthy relationships.

What are our needs?

Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, initially with five-tiers, but this was later extended to 8 (No’s 5, 6 and 8). It is usually depicted in triangular form with the most basic needs (1) at the bottom.

1. Biological and physiological needs - air, drink, food, shelter, sleep, warmth, etc.

2. Safety needs - protection from elements, freedom from fear, security, stability, law/order

3. Needs concerned with love and affiliation (connection) - friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.

4. Esteem needs – both esteem for oneself and the desire for acknowledgement or respect from others

5. Cognitive needs – curiosity, exploration, knowledge and understanding, our need for meaning and pattern

6. Aesthetic needs – our appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form etc

7. Self-actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and uplifting experiences i.e. a desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming” Maslow

8. Transcendence needs – motivation for values which go beyond the personal self eg the pursuit of science, religious experiences/faith, aesthetic experiences, service to others

Tay and Diener (2011) tested Maslow’s theory by analysing the data from a 5 year survey (2005-2010) with participants from 123 countries, representing major regions of the world. The results of the study supported the view that universal human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences but suggested that we don’t need to achieve one level before we can occupy ourselves with the next level i.e. they work independently and we should aim to fulfil our needs at all levels simultaneously

They’re like vitamins. We need them all” Ed Diener

How do we prioritise our needs?

Be there for others but never leave yourself behind” Dodinsky

In the busyness of our lives, we have calls on us from every direction and it is easy to be pulled all over the place in our attempt to do everything for everybody. It is easy to neglect our own needs and health if we don’t learn to prioritise self-care. It is essential to spend time reflecting on what that means for us as boundaries are central to our identity and sense of self. We need to develop a strong sense of who we are to avoid constantly changing into who other people want us to be at the expense of our own needs. By developing self-respect and practising self-care, we also teach others to respect us.

You teach people how to treat you, by what you allow, what you stop and what you reinforce” Tony Gaskins

Learning to say no can be difficult sometimes and it can lead to feelings of guilt, but when we learn to set clear boundaries and prioritise our own needs we will have less stress and more energy and resilience (and who doesn’t want that?!)

'Prioritise your needs and discipline your wants' and 'use your time effectively not just efficiently'.

Constantly filling our lives with things to do and taking on more responsibilities can generate a cycle in which being stressed becomes the norm and will take a toll on our mental and physical health. The knock on to this of course is that less energy then prevents us from enjoying our lives and affects how we relate to others as we become more irritable and tired.

“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”.

Stephen Covey

By looking after our needs first we then have more to give ourselves and others.

Our needs are few; wants are everything else and are there to make life a little more enjoyable. Ensure that you make yourself a priority and keep the balance correct so you can flourish and live a fulfilling life

“Create a ladder of values and priorities in your life, reminding yourself of what really matters to you”. Robert Greene

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

What are my needs?

Do I prioritise my needs, over other people’s needs or my own wants?

What do I need to do to prioritise my own needs?

With time, we have become increasingly familiar with the concept of forced wants and unfamiliar with the concept of basic needs.” Rajesh Random Cosmos

If you want to read/listen to more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started:

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
Oct 08, 2020

I love that phrase "Prioritise your needs and discipline your wants" it sums it up very neatly. It seems to be an extension of Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle to use time effectively not just efficiently


Oct 08, 2020

Sometimes it's so hard to say no to other people's needs because it can seem that we are being selfish or uncaring or a bad person. Sometimes taking care of your own needs is essential for your own health and well being.

The only thing we really need for survival is food and shelter. 'Wants' are what makes life more enjoyable!

"Prioritise your needs and discipline your wants"

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