The Essential Difference Between Needs and Wants
Insight 1: How letting go of one could simplify and deepen the relationship with the other.
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Understanding the difference between human needs and wants is a good place to start to learn and practice the art of simplicity behind the theory of Fewer Better Things. Actually, it’s essential.
In the most simplest of terms, a need is something we must have for our survival and a want is something that we desire for whatever reason. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow described our basic needs in his Hierarchy of Needs.
He identified physiological (food, water, sleep, and warmth), personal safety and security, and psychological (belonging, self-esteem, and accomplishments) needs as essential to our wellbeing. Once these are in place we can focus on self-actualization.
Our needs are essential, necessary, limited, and constant throughout our lives. For example: Eating more than we really need doesn’t lead to more survival, just obesity.
Wants on the other hand are desires, things that we have come to believe that we want to feel happy. They often originate from the lack of satisfying our essential needs well, neurological biases, like social comparison bias, bad habits, or societal norms.
Wants are per definition non-essential, not necessary, unlimited, and change throughout our lives. They can be temporary (craving fast food and sugars) or part of a long term desire (when I get a lot of money I’ll buy a vintage Porsche).
When Abraham Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs almost hundred years ago, self-actualization, or reaching your full potential in modern terms, was a foreign concept. Focus was on survival, putting food on the table and staying alive.
But today the world looks different. Most people learn how to satisfy their essential needs much earlier in life. Now the problem is overconsumption and lack of fulfillment. Obesity has become a larger health crisis than starvation.
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