The Thin Line Between "Wants" And "Needs"

Last updated 29 May 2016 . 4 min read

My daughter was throwing a major tantrum; “I have to eat ice cream now!” was the demand. If you heard her you would assume there would be dire consequences if she didn’t get her dessert that very moment. She probably did expect something horrible to happen if she was deprived of ice cream. That was a 5-year-old, and we know that children can be irrational at times, but when I thought back to the incident I realised that adults are no different. While we may not throw the obvious tantrum, we repeatedly tell ourselves that we must have certain things to make us happy.

We need a bigger house, a better paying job, a more loving spouse, more money, more acceptance or success to be content.

What is need? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary; need is something that a person must have, something that is required in order to live. By that definition, needs would be essentials like food, air, water, maybe decent clothes and a place to stay. Anything more would be a want, a wish, a desire, something that would make our lives easier but is not a necessity for survival. A cell phone isn’t a need, even though most of us believe otherwise.  

So what happens when our wishes become demands? If we don’t fulfil these burdens that we make on ourselves then we are miserable, just like my little girl was. They become our substitutes for the childhood ice creams.

Though hers was a passing phase and forgotten later, we adults don’t forget, we get depressed and angry. Inability to attain our so-called needs magnifies the dissatisfaction leading to abusive relationships and self-harming strategies.

To give an example; someone I know closely had a very difficult relationship with his son. While his son wanted to pursue a career that didn’t yield good money the father believed that a man should earn well first, then pursue hobbies at leisure. The father had this need to have a successful son, a demand from his son to be ambitious and make lots of money in a traditional 9 to 5 job. On the other hand, the son was extremely resentful of his father not valuing his choices. He believed as a parent his father must understand him. Both father and son refused to give in, leading to years of animosity between them. It came to a point where the father would mock his son’s career choice any chance he got and the son would not acknowledge his father at all.

In his later years, the father apologised to his son for being so demanding all his life. Conceding that his need to have a certain type of son had led to him having no son at all.

This need is the reason parents have strained relationships with their children, people struggle with their jobs instead of pursuing their passions; children commit suicide over poor grades and we spend entire lives living in bitterness and resentment.

So should we not have any desires? No! Wants are perfectly acceptable; it becomes a problem when wishes become needs, rendering us incapable of thinking rationally.

We will never have a perfect life, there will always be a little more to wish for, to achieve and that’s alright. Humans are gifted with a brain that helps us realise our desires. It’s when we demand, that troubles begin.

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Jumana Rajkotwala
With more than 15 successful years in the IT industry behind me, I now work in the mental health field. I’m an avid reader, a counsellor by profession, mother by choice and writer by passion. I enjoy understanding the complex workings of the mind, why we do or say what we do. What makes us the people we are and how imperfectly perfect our thoughts are. This reflects many times in my writings.

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