Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self?
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Today I am happy to write about the topic of wants versus needs. I think this is a critical subject to address as so many of us, MOST of us, confuse these two realities on a regular basis. I believe that many families would find themselves in a much better economic position if they could differentiate between these two realities. Yet, the advertising executives today know it is a necessity for the consumer to confuse these concepts in order for them to profit. Businesses profit from our lack of understanding.
A NEED is something that you must have, something that is essential for you to live your life. Needs include:
- Transportation (could be walking)
- Access to affordable healthcare
A want is something, as stated by Gandhi, comes from greed, as opposed to something that is a fundamental need. Wants include:
- Gourmet food
- A large home
- New, name-brand label clothing
- Love from an individual who looks like they walked off the cover of GQ or Vogue
- An expensive, shiny, new car
As I have stated in other posts, both of my daughters are adopted. Both of them come from third world countries. Travelling to these countries to bring my girls home gave me a very deep perspective on this issue. In both of their cases, their birth families were living in tin shacks, often with only two changes of clothing to their name, that they would wear one week at a time, including to sleep in. Visiting countries with these conditions brought me face to face with my own selfishness, with my own consumerism, with my own false beliefs about what I really need versus what I want.
What people need and what they want may be very different. ~ Elbert Hubbard
During those trips I realized that I do need shelter, but technically I could live with my children in a one room shack and we would be able to live and survive. I love having a slightly larger home (though four of us are living in under 1,000 square feet)…. but I do not NEED a larger home, I need a roof and four walls – anything more than that is icing on the cake. I also realize that while I need shoes and clothing, I do not need to fixate on my love for Uggs and Birkenstocks, or want to wear only certain brand-name jeans. I need to cover my body and my feet. I am afforded the luxury of being able to choose brand name I love, but I choose them out of greed and want, not because I cannot live without them.
When I look at many countries in our world today, particularly the USA, I see that so many of the individuals around me think they need things that they do not. They do not need the latest iPhone or Kindle or Dell Laptop. They do not need a new car or a larger home or seasons passes to Disneyland. They do not need perfectly manicured nails, dyed hair, or professionally waxed eyebrows. What people do need is to have the skills and ability to acknowledge that their wants are NOT needs. I am always saddened when families who struggle to put food on the table and pay off debt are mixing up their priorities. I have known of many women who were struggling to pay bills, but had perfectly manicured nails at the time.
It is all about priorities and having the strength and courage to fight the societal (advertisers) messages and resist the urge to convince yourself that your wants are needs – you THINK you need a new iPhone, but your phone really does function fine. This strength is a big asset to those who are able to transcend the worlds materialistic messages.
It is okay to want nice things, just not at the expense of taking care of your family and its basic needs.
If more Americans could grasp this concept, they would be well on their way out of debt and into more financial freedom. This would be a very good thing. In the words of The Rolling Stones:
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need. ~ The Rolling Stones
Today, 330 days ’til 40, I will strive to always keep in mind the differences between my wants and my needs. I will seek to question my motives with purchases – do I NEED what I am buying, or do I merely WANT it? It is okay if I purchase something I want, and my awareness of the purchase and why will afford me to the opportunity to keep a better handle on the balance between my wants and needs. I hope for you that you will find the balance too.