Confusing Wants and Needs

Although we are three decades past the big 80’s, you wouldn’t know it by the amount of emphasis our culture puts on “me”, “mine”, and other forms of self-indulgent narcissism.

Think about how often we say things like, “I really need a Coke”, “I need to buy another pair shoes”, “I just need a break”, “she just needs to understand…”, “I’m just not getting my needs met”.

This line of expression could go on ad nauseum. Our culture just doesn’t understand the difference between a need and a want.

Of course, if you and I are honest, most of the time we don’t fare much better.

In recovery, it’s very important to understand that most of what we’re missing in our lives are wants rather than needs. We need things like water, food and shelter. These are needs that the majority of us reading this blog have in adequate supply. Probably not to the level that we want, which is the whole point of this conversation.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying it’s not wrong to have wants. It’s not even necessarily wrong to seek satisfaction of many of our wants and desires. But there’s a huge difference between how we approach meeting a want and how we approach meeting a need.

If we perceive something as a want or desire, we may first seek to meet it on our own. If we aren’t able to do so, we might request the help of others to get or achieve It. If we’re still unsuccessful,  we’ll feel sadness and other normal human emotions, grieving the loss of our inability to obtain it. But at the end of the day, we’ll move on to pursue other wants and desires.

Not so with needs. When we perceive something as a need, we will seek for force circumstances and/or manipulate others to obtain the object of our affection. It preoccupies our thinking, jealously taking up space in our mind and causing us to sacrifice other things we value trying to obtain It. It becomes a little god, and idol of our myopic worship. We refuse to grieve the loss of not possessing it and push down every negative emotion, as if they didn’t exist.

Big difference, don’t you think?

The first step to detaching from our little idols is actually rather simple. It starts with consciously and intentionally changing the language we use to speak about every day desires.

Try this for the rest of today: Every time you catch yourself using the word “need”, discipline yourself to restate it, substituting the word “want” in its place.

One word of caution, though. Don’t be surprised if you discover just how many opportunities you have to try this today!

Using the language of desire requires a bit of discipline at first. But over time, this simple substitution just might begin to change your heart.