I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I really need and what I just want.
My yoga teacher said something about it recently, and it’s stuck with me. As I go through my day, I’m questioning if I really need this or do I just want it? Kind of interesting, as we all have so much and invite so much and get so much in our lives.
Of course, we all need the basics. According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we all need the first level, the physiological – air, water, food, sleep, clothing and shelter. At the next higher level, we need safety – personal, financial, health. After these needs are fulfilled, there is a need to belong, as in friendships, intimacy and family. Esteem needs are next – the concern with getting recognition and respect from others. Self-actualization is the next level, the realization of our full potential. And, Maslow explored another, highest dimension of self-transcendence – the giving of oneself to some higher outside goal in altruism and spirituality.
We must have the first level of needs met in order to live, but all the higher levels are really unnecessary to exist on this earth. We look at our lives here and see that we are so blessed to be up on the upper levels of our needs being met. Think of all the people on this earth who don’t have enough food, clean air, water or shelter (right here in Durango).
So now I’m looking at my own life and seeing what I think I really need to exist – so much more than what is listed here. I need freedom, movement of my body, physical comfort, good/local/in-season/fresh food, wellness, beauty, interesting people around me, a garden, music, a faith-based community, privacy and on and on and on.
It seems many of us are more interested in quality of life than a higher standard of living, and self-realization rather than material wealth. Are these wants and/or needs? And, do I feel like I’m entitled to these things?
Buddhist thought says: “Needs are finite and wants are without limit. Wants reside in the mind, a product of thought, while needs are of the body, consisting of such reasonable necessities as food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Wanting to eat is eating when you feel like eating; needing to eat is eating when you’re hungry.”
Craving plays a big part in our desire for wanting. It seems like craving chocolate cake just leads to more and more chocolate cake (insert whatever wants are happening right now for you). Sometimes, these desires can control us, and we end up suffering, like with a fat belly from too much cake!
The environmental impact of our wants is a whole other aspect of this question. How much are we hurting or helping the earth as we live our so-called ordinary lives?
Even when we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and then want something else.
It’s an interesting process to just watch myself. As I age, I feel like I really need less and less. The simple life agrees with me. However, then I take the time to actually look at this and see how disillusioned I am.
May all beings have enough, and be happy, peaceful, healthy, free from harm and at ease in the world.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.