Do you need it or want it?

Need and Want – Take a look at these two four letter words. Their dictionary definitions are relatively similar yet they have distinct meanings. In economic terms, a need is generally referred to as something required for survival and a want is a desire for something now or in the future.

There is often a grey area between these two, so how can we decide if we want or need something? Many times, we confuse these two simple words. We are quick to say “I need a new car” or “I need a new phone” when chances are (if they are in good working order) it is a want.

A simple way of illustrating the difference between these two is to do a survival exercise. Imagine you are going to be stranded on a desert island and you can decide on one thing to have on the island. What would you choose? Take for example fresh water supply. Is this a need or a want? Do you require it to survive? Now consider taking another person. Do you need it or want it? Whilst you may be happier with someone else around it is not a prerequisite for your survival.

Sometimes a wish is so intense that you actually convince yourself that you need it. In order to distinguish between the two, ask yourself “Have I been able to survive without it?” If the answer is yes, then you want it regardless of how convinced you may be that you need it. Advertising is a very clever tool to make you think that you need something that you really only want.

You can also use these two words to work to your advantage and to motivate and empower you. How many times a day do you say to yourself “I need to do this and that”? Try substituting the term “I need” to “I want to…” So for example, “I need to water the plants” becomes “I want to water the plants”. This will make mundane tasks and things you don’t want to do less of an obligation as you will get the feeling that you are choosing to do this. The plants will need watering regardless so you may as well try to see it from a different angle. Something as small as changing need to want could leave you feeling more relaxed and in control of your own life.

The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to think about what you want versus what you need. Take a look around and you will probably realise that you are fortunate enough not to actually need much else.
However, there are some people that have a list of needs rather than a list of wants. If you can help, even if in a small way, to meet these needs such as clothes, food, etc, then you have accomplished a great deal. Besides, is this spirit of giving and support not the true meaning of Christmas?

Truth is, what most of us really do need is to want less.

What do you think you need? How often do you say “I don’t need that”?

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Written by Ana Antunes da Silva.


Erin Hanson cleverly illustrates our need to want less.

Image by Flickr user Mary.

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