Conquer your needs or master your wants?
When I needed to curb my spending, particularly the ‘God Knows What’ part of it, one piece of advice kept cropping out: ask yourself do you really need this! If the answer is ‘no’ just don’t buy it. Lord knows I tried. I noticed a lovely ring and asked myself do I really need it. Yep! You guessed it! The answer was ‘yes, I do; it will go really nicely with a pair of earrings I have’. I saw a pair of shoes and asked myself the same question; and gave the same answer. And it did not matter one little bit that I already had over forty pairs of shoes – I needed this one because nothing went with that particular pair of trousers. In other words I needed a lot; I needed everything I wanted. And this got me thinking. What if the very well respected mantra of asking ‘do I need it’ is wrong?
Just as I started thinking about this, I went to visit an elderly aunt; she is eighty six and still very mentally and physically active. We were discussing current developments and suddenly she said: ‘But life doesn’t need to be so difficult and unpleasant. It can be really nice if people only knew that all they need is something to eat, something to wear and somewhere to live.’ Is that all? But these are needs that all animals share; we humans need more than that, we need imagination, creativity and space to grow.
The concept of ‘needs’ is very important in sociology, economics and psychology. Probably the best known concept is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He believed humans are motivated by five types of needs: biological and physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem and self-actualisation. More importantly Maslow had this idea that the different needs form a strict hierarchy – in other words, to be able to appreciate beauty one has to have had his/her biological needs met. Or if one needs sex one cannot have love; if one is sleep deprived one can’t appreciate art, or aim to be the best they could be. Maslow has been criticised extensively – main weakness of his theory is arguably the sequential nature of the hierarchy. Whist the theory will have us believe that it is not possible to jump levels of the hierarchy the world around us doesn’t support such a claim. Hungry people can appreciate beauty, sleep deprived mothers can have esteem and everybody can achieve self-actualisation.
So is it our needs that motivate us? But who needs a Fendi bag? Who needs Armani suits?
I have come to believe that what motivates us is not our ‘needs’ but our ‘wants’. Needs and wants are difficult to separate but for simplicity we can think of wants as the skeleton and the muscle and of needs as the skin of our motivation; needs merely make our wants more acceptable. A fact well known to, and exploited by, the advertising industry which works, and has always worked, on our wants.
This means that controlling expenditure is not about conquering our needs but about mastering our wants. In my next post I’ll tell you about the little exercise I devised to master my wants; it worked a dream.