Wants Vs. Needs

decision by ozge gurer vatandasI’m late posting again… but a lot happened this week!  I got a job offer and, against the advice of several people who commented on my last post, I accepted quickly.  I’ve read that a rushed hiring process can raise red flags about the company, and only time will tell if I just made a mistake… but I’ve been out of work for almost a year and I’m excited to finally start working again!

Okay, technically I’m mostly excited to finally start making money again… but also to have a job.  I honestly don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working.  I also feel guilty about spending money when I’m not making any, so that further limits the potential fun of any time off.

The bottom line is, I’m relieved that I’m finished looking for a job for now.  Maybe I could have found something better, but who knows how long I would have had to wait!  Now, instead of agonizing over my future during every waking moment, I can focus on enjoying life and making the most of my free time.  In my mind, it comes down to wants vs. needs:  I want to find a job that I am passionate about, but I need the security of a job—any job!—to stay sane.

When I’m in job-limbo, I’m tense, irritable, and uncreative.  My relationship with my husband suffers, and my creative projects go neglected.  Of course, being stuck in a bad job can have similar consequences… so I might just be out of the frying pan and into the fire… but still, the sense of security that comes with having a job (even a bad one) is important to me.  (Or, maybe, my self-esteem is too fragile to handle unemployment for long…)

I promised a happy post, but here I am over-analyzing things again!  What I meant to talk about is how people generally (not just me) prioritize the demands in their lives and find meaning.  What I meant to talk about was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a diagram designed to show the order in which most people try to get their needs met.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs.svg
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the bottom of the pyramid are the most basic needs: food, water, shelter, etc., and at the top are impulses that are closer to wants than needs, such as creative expression.  According to Maslow’s theory, it is increasingly difficult to meet needs higher on the pyramid if the needs below are not met.  Likewise, people tend to focus on meeting their basic needs before moving on to those higher on the pyramid.  (More information here)

 

Maslow’s theory has been on my mind recently because of the amount of anxiety I experienced over my job search.  “Security of employment” falls into the safety category, second from the bottom of the pyramid.  That describes the way I feel about having a job, but there’s more to the picture.  My life doesn’t depend on me having a job—even though it wouldn’t be ideal financially, my husband could support me if it became necessary.  What I really want is a higher joint income so we can buy a house where we can settle down and start a family, and the means to live comfortably.  On top of that, I want my husband to know that I’m willing to work hard and contribute financially so the burden doesn’t fall entirely on him.  And in some ways, what I want from my job is the validation from society that I’ve done enough to be entitled to pursuing my creative interests in my free time.  Where does that fit on the pyramid?  Does that count as an “esteem need” because I care about how others perceive me?  Is my desire to start a family a “love/belongingness need?”  Or is the whole thing just qualify as “self actualization” since it’s all a part of the life I dream of living?  Have I gone past the realm of needs entirely, moved straight into wants?  (And does that make me spoiled??)

house of horrors by melfoody
An essential part of my shallow, boring fantasy life.  Even I’m judging myself for this want!

So much of our lives is spent pursuing one thing we want after another, usually without fully understanding the impulses that drive us.  I suspect that many of us WordPressers are driven by self-actualization and our need for a creative outlet.  Are we built differently, or are we just lucky enough to be in situations where we can focus on our wants more than our needs?  I suspect it’s a combination of both: we all have our basic needs met, but might flip the top part of the pyramid and put creative expression ahead of gaining social acceptance or the respect of others.  But then, maybe not—I could picture myself secluding myself in a tiny shack to focus only on writing an music at the expense of all else, but I would never actually do that because it would dramatically change so many close relationships in my life (social needs) and people might think I was crazy (esteem needs).

Whether needs are subjective our universal, I think the line between needs and wants is a blurry one.  There are certain things that we can live without—if you define life in the most basic terms.  Then, there are the things that drive us, and without which life would be meaningless.  These desires are as strong as needs, and I think they are different for each person.  If you have a dream, is pursuing that dream a want or a need?  For me, I could never live without the pursuit!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Is there a clear difference between wants and needs?  Where would you place your goals on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Photo credits: 1) Decision by Ozge Gurer Vatandas under this licence, 2) Image of Maslow’s Hierarchy from this Wikimedia Commons page 3) House of Horrors by Melfoody under this licence
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22 thoughts on “Wants Vs. Needs

  1. I never liked maslow’s pyramid because it’s abit vague for me. Some people use sex for self esteem so where does that fit? I’m very self confident but I definitely don’t have the ’employment safety’ down, am I supposed to be sunbathing between the two levels? 😅
    Find the things that make you feel happy and productive and ignore the 1940’s psychologists.

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    1. So true–different versions of the pyramid list the same needs in different categories, so even within the theory a lot is open to interpretation! I’m prone to over-analyzing, so I love putting things into arbitrary categories, but you’re right–it comes down to happiness, and happiness is subjective!

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  2. I always felt self-actualized, I understood the feeling as soon as I learned about it in a college psychology class I snuck into loll I thought it was perfect, that every human being should be striving for attainment, or at least be able to reach full potential of their abilities without worrying about other basic needs being met. There’s other psychologist’s I’ve fallen more in love with though since I learned about him and I used to think if his psychology combined with another psychologists idea of life, it would make for the perfect scenario because life really does operate in a sense of dualities that we only see as humans, but genius is finding a way to express both through one outlet, as if to merge both sides into a power coupling!

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    1. It’s great that you feel self-actualized! I always felt that there was a gap between who I wanted to be and who I was. There are so many interesting theories in psychology–I don’t think there’s anything wrong with combining the ideas you like and using the parts that help you live your best life!

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        1. Hmmm, when you put it that way, I think it’s less who I want to be and more what I want to accomplish that makes me feel like I haven’t “self-actualized” yet. I’m mostly happy with who I am, though fully aware of my many flaws and have several things I hope to improve. I certainly wish I were more disciplined, a better writer, a better musician, and a better photographer!

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            1. Great question–and I’m sorry for missing your comment until now! I’m not sure I have a great answer to that. I think my biggest dream would be able to support my family while making income in a creative field (writing or music), but I also think I would be happy just helping to support my family while pursuing creative projects on the side.

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  3. So happy that you’ve got a new job! I definitely relate to having the guilt factor of spending money when I’m not making any (uggghhhh), but it’s a dance I need to continue to practice during my season as a stay at home mom.

    Also, I like that pyramid chart. I need to print a copy of that and keep it on my desk!

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    1. Thank you! 🙂 It’s impossible to live a full life without spending money, so I can completely relate to the struggle! When I was in Singapore and not working, I tried to limit my shopping, but allowed myself to go out to get coffee or lunch with friends… I still felt guilty sometimes, but being happy is part of being a good partner.

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  4. 15 years ago I used to dream of a good life, and had I not pursued that life , I would be struggling to feed myself. Today, I am going through a rough chapter, but I feel I am far removed from my base struggle for survival. I feel that no matter what, I can still have a good life.

    So I think its mostly self actualization, at this point. My experience when I moved to the US was people struggle here too, but have a much larger support structure provided by the state.

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    1. Your perspective is so interesting! I never thought about how the drive to pursue our dreams could lead us naturally to a life that meets our other needs. I’m glad that you’re able to focus on self-actualization, even though you’re facing so many challenges right now. I’ve been reading through your blog and rooting for your success!

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        1. That may be true, but I’d chose a life of existential angst over the harsh conditions that many people in the world live in! I’m not trying to trivialize the experience of those who struggle with depression an anxiety, as they are serious issues that have affected many people close to me, but I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that worrying about self-fulfillment is a luxury that many people don’t have.

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          1. I agree with you completely… I was just pointing out the irony of too much time available to think about our positions in life leads to all sorts of mess doesn’t it? I would any day prefer the anguish of self-realization than the fight for subsistence.

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  5. It’s not surprising you haven’t heard the quote before. The translation is a private one prepared for me by my second wife, who could read and write classical Chinese. Kan Chu — along with dozens and dozens of other relatively minor ancient Chinese scholars — has never been published in English.

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