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What do you *really* need?

August 4, 2010

When people try to understand the difference between “wants” and “needs”, the distinction most commonly made is that a “want” is something a person can live without, whereas a “need” is something that a person must have in order to survive.

Because there are different types of “survival” (physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual), there are then different types of needs.

The model for the diversity of needs that is the most comprehensive and accepted in academia is Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. If you analyze the model, the first thing you should notice, is the structure upon which it is built: a hierarchy. This means that needs are not understood as separate entities, but as priorities of survival, with some being more important than others.

So then, the premise that I go by when distinguishing “needs” from “wants”, is that there are no needs or wants– there are only priorities. Thus, the difference between needs and wants is all relative, with the “needs” that are lower priority (you are more willing to live without) being deemed as “wants”, and with the “needs” that are higher priority (you are less willing to live without) are considered to be true necessities.

The hierarchy of a need is determined by its value, and the value of a need is assigned based upon its priority. Maslow recognized this, but he also recognized that most successful individuals had very similar priorities in life, and so he created a model based upon those priorities, that people might use his hierarchy as a basic roadmap in their journey to a successful life.

But while perhaps certain priorities are necessary for what Maslow considers to be “successful”, there is no limit on what a person’s priorities might be. Thus, there is nothing in this world that a person actually needs; rather, there are only values that each individual (or society) prioritizes.

Every “need” has been ‘neglected’ without interfering with that person’s well-being, at least where “well-being” is determined by the person neglecting those needs. For example, monks will often starve themselves for weeks, Americans routinely “rot their brains” by overloading it with cable TV. The United States’ armed forces actually unlocks a person’s inner potential by neglecting what most consider to be one of the most important needs: Emotional needs.

It is then clear that not only are even the most basic of needs optional, but benefits often directly result from neglecting these needs. This is the fundamental part of necessity that Maslow failed to take into account: Even though most successful people prioritize most of his “needs”, all of them will neglect a few of those needs, that they might focus more on meeting the others.

Rare is the person that can fulfill all of the basic desires of their heart, and it’s impossible for anyone with ambition to have every need and want fulfilled in entirety. So when deciding what you want most in life, and what you need most to get those wants–that is, Prerequisites, remember that having solid and well-thought out priorities is the key to success. This fundamental value is the one thing that Maslow was dead-on about– when it comes to success, good priorities are an absolute necessity.

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