In “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, The Rolling Stones presented not only a great song but also a pretty profound concept of needs versus wants. How do you know the difference between what you want versus what you really need? It’s a question that on the surface seems simple enough, but can often trip us up.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of “Survivor”, you know the short answer is you only really need food and water. Some would argue in favour of including shelter, minimal personal hygiene items and clothing to that list, but the TV show was popular for just that reason — it demonstrated how very little we humans actually need to survive.
In an age of consumerism, many blur the lines between their wants and needs.
If your smartphone is losing 90% of its battery power before lunch, not many would disagree that you “need” a new smartphone, yet the reality is that we don’t actually “need” smartphones at all. We want them. We like them because they make our lives easier and more convenient, while also keeping us connected to the people and things on our priorities list. We convince ourselves that things we like a lot are actually things we need, but maybe there is a particle of truth to that. Is surviving the same as thriving?
What we need VS. What we want
There are many opinions about what we need versus what we want. Just Google the subject and you’re instantly flooded with blatant or passive-aggressively judgemental articles extolling the virtues of an enhanced life of pared-down basic necessities coupled with enriched human relationships over material purchases. Why do we have to choose one over the other? Why can’t we have it all? Perhaps not all at one time, but a multitude of choices is one of the things we work hard to have and enjoy in modern society. It’s important to respect the right to define for ourselves what we need and want out of life.
While some may feel it’s wrong to think a new car is a “need” versus a “want”, others can’t fathom living without the material possessions and comforts of a privileged lifestyle. Others eschew vehicle ownership for environmental reasons, financial savings or to support the infrastructure of community transit systems. Neither of these sets of beliefs is more right or wrong. We can be charitable, kind people who enjoy nature and give time or money to charity while and also purchasing the latest electronics or a designer handbag. Everyone has a personal set of choices, desires, wants, needs and measurements of life’s fulfilment. Taking pleasure in consumer goods doesn’t make anyone a bad person; how we treat ourselves and other people classifies the quality of our character.
There is no certain answer
Defining a singular path for all of humanity has never worked. The beauty of life and mankind is found in our differences, and if one person feels all she needs is the sun on her face and fresh air in her lungs every day versus a big, expensive house in a gated community, that’s for her to decide. Conversely, the woman who needs the challenge of a demanding career and the financial success it brings is no less Zen, assuming she maintains respect and kindness in her approach to life and others. It’s not always a character flaw to have a consumerist approach to life and nor are minimalists always the gold standard for high moral character and goodness.
To feel happy and fulfilled is what you need
What makes you feel happy and fulfilled is what you need. For some, happiness is a focus on nature and nurturing of relationships without material trappings. For others, these needs also include things that require financial expenses. It’s fine to live fluidly between these two lifestyles. Live and let live, folks. No matter what group you subscribe to, judging and criticizing others isn’t what anyone wants or needs.