How To Decipher Your Needs

Dear Adeline,

Wants and needs.

I wonder if the key to a happy life, if indeed that is the goal, is deciphering the two. Do you need this or do you want this? What’s the difference and when is it appropriate to claim one instead of the other?

In the waning months of your second year, you have latched on to your needs. To you, everything is a need.

“Daddy, I need cereal for breakfast.”

“I need to read Curious George.”

“Mommy, I need to watch My Little Pony.”

I correct you on the simple ones. I remind you that those things are wants, not needs. You don’t get it yet. As you grow, however, it only gets muddier.

Do you need more money, or is that a want?

Do you need a vacation?

Do you need intimacy?

The Confusion

Our culture doesn’t offer much help. Needy love infects our media and is trumpeted as the pinnacle of devotion. Find that one person that you just can’t live without, that person that you need and live happily ever after. Advertisers don’t help. They seek to excavate new caverns in your soul that can only be filled with their product. We buy in to it. We elevate luxuries into needs. In short, we are confused.

In a violent reaction to our luxurious privilege, one is tempted to assert that all you really need is food, shelter, and water. Everything else is relegated to desire. If it doesn’t contribute to you not dying it’s superfluous – a luxury. Isn’t this how so many live around the world? I find this line of thinking incredibly unhelpful and even abusive at times. Your needs are so much more complex and dynamic. You must not ignore them. So, I find the test of “survival” too crude, too shortsighted.

So, how do you sort through all of this? How can you determine if what you are feeling is a need or a want?

A Solution

I offer you a test question – a rubric if you will. It’s a question that moves beyond basic survival. The question is not, “do I need this to survive?”

The question is: Do I need this to thrive?

What I love about this question, is that it is contextual. It takes into account your hopes, dreams, and circumstances. It considers the reality that not everybody lives with the same set of needs. It also forces you to honestly reflect on what you want and expect of life.

Adeline, I want you to thrive in this life, not just survive. So, I believe it is perfectly ok to claim as a need anything that will help you thrive in your current reality.

Let’s put this question to the test:

Do you need to watch Elmo to thrive?

Were you selected to be a guest on Sesame Street and you need to do some research? Are you applying for a job as a puppeteer for a popular kids show and you need to study the techniques of Elmo? Are your parents strung out, tired, and in need of a 30 minute break in order to engage you more fully? If any of these are the case, you are probably safe claiming the Elmo Show as a need.

Do you need a BMW to thrive?

Perhaps. Do you work for BMW? Do you run an online BMW forum? Or, maybe you entertain extremely wealthy clients on a daily basis. If so, you probably need a BMW. Otherwise, you don’t. It’s a want.

Do you need a boyfriend to thrive?

This one is a bit trickier. You will have to search your heart and answer this for yourself. My flinch, Adeline, is no, you don’t need a boyfriend to thrive. You can thrive perfectly well without a boyfriend.

Do you need your spouse to be vulnerable in order to thrive?

Vulnerability leads to trust and intimacy, two essential ingredients of any thriving marriage. This is most certainly a need. Tell your spouse that you need vulnerability in your marriage. That’s perfectly ok.

Do you need the latest smart phone in order to thrive?

Do you develop apps for smart phones? Is there a mission-critical program that simply won’t operate on the old phone?


I think you get the idea. Throughout your life, your needs will change as your situation changes. They will change as your desires change as well. As your father, I want you to be very aware of your needs. I want you to own them, think about them, and meet them head on.

Finally, my dear you can not expect others to meet your needs. Let go of this expectation early. Be brutal with it. If you live your life expecting others to meet your needs, you will grow lonely, cold, and bitter.

Adeline, your needs are valid.

Name them.

Own them.

Meet them.


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