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Needs and Wants: The Distinction

Updated: Aug 30, 2018

We all have both needs and wants, but the difference between the two categories can get blurry. For our own self-understanding and happiness, it's important to recognize the distinction: Needs are things or conditions we require to be met if we are to have a chance at contentment or satisfaction. Unmet needs prevent us from pursuing anything greater - like longer-term goals or dreams. If your employment is ending next week and you need a new job to live, it's impossible to focus on planning a European vacation. That's an exaggerated example, but you get the idea.

Confusion arises when we think our wants are things we need. "We need to have a house before we can start a family," is a common one I hear. Owning a house is a want, not a need. I'd suggest you need to have a stable housing situation to feel comfortable starting a family - but that does not have to mean home ownership. Happy, healthy families can and often are started and raised in rented houses or apartments. I had a friend who insisted she needed a husband to have a happy life, and she put countless plans on hold until she found The Guy (which didn't turn out so happy, but that's for another post).

The point is: by confusing wants with needs, we can prevent ourselves from moving forward in our lives. If you think carefully about your true needs - that is, what will absolutely hold you back if they are not fulfilled - you'll realize the remainder are wants. I need security and stability (read: a decent-paying job), the feeling I have control over my own time, supportive friendships, and a comfortable home. When those needs are met, I can pursue my wants: adventurous experiences, entertainment, travel, outdoor sports and more. My list of wants is long, admittedly. It also includes an AirStream camper and better gardening skills. Without unmet needs dragging me down, I am free to go after my wants.

Both needs and wants can change for us over time. I used to have a need for recognition and approval, but I've outgrown that (which is soooo liberating!). Now I need consistent, decent sleep and downtime. I used to want to own a Bed and Breakfast - but now I'm on the fence with that one.

Are your needs getting met? Are you clear about the distinction between your needs and wants? You can absolutely get what you need AND what you want when you have clarity, and put the right steps in motion.


I NEED security; but I WANT adventure (and an AirStream)!

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