Potent Words: Need Versus Want

How many times have you gone to the grocery store and, as you’re walking down the aisles and picking things off the shelves, said, “Oh, I need that”? If you’ve got kids, how many times have they held up some goody or other in your grocery excursion and declared, “We need more of these, Mom”?

Chances are, the item you’ve picked or the one your child is waving in front of you has come from a company that has done their marketing research. They’ve covered the packaging with bright colors and big letters. And, especially here in America, they’ve probably “enhanced” or “improved” it somehow—usually by making the box hold more servings, touting “claims” about new ingredients that boost its cleaning power or flavor, anything as long as it will catch your attention and make you think about buying it.

The problem is, too often we don’t. The trouble doesn’t start with thinking, either. It starts with a four-letter word—well, two of them, really: “need” and “want”.

What do we really need? We need to eat and drink, keep ourselves relatively clean, fairly healthy, dressed in clothes that are seasonally appropriate and cover our parts that we find it socially unacceptable to leave out for public display (at least that’s the usual definition of clothing).

If you take that grocery trip, think about this. There are thousands of items there, and a majority can be considered luxury items. Do we really “need” laundry detergent that supposedly smells like “fresh breeze”? What about seven varieties of apple, twelve different formulations of pudding mix, or twenty-three different kinds of soup? Do our kids need cereal shaped like little bears, crackers in the shape of jungle animals, or yogurt with multicolored sprinkles they can mix into it? Do we “need” a beer can that turns blue to tell you it’s still cold? And if we do, why? (For the beer, didn’t we used to use our hands to figure this out?)

We’ve gotten really confused and think we need things we don’t, and what we should be saying instead is, “I want that”.

Advertising plays a big part in this shift. We’re constantly exposed to messages from companies saying that, in order to be happy, beautiful, healthy, satisfied, all we “need” is their product and we’ll magically change.

We have drugs for things we didn’t even call diseases before, or simply accepted as part of life. We are told to eat certain foods in certain amounts because of what they’ll protect us from “getting” later—“DRINK COFFEE TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF PARKINSON’S!”, or “EAT CARROTS TO IMPROVE EYESIGHT!” or “GET YOUR FIBER IN YOUR YOGURT!”. What ever happened to eating vegetables because they were in season or because, wondrous thought, they taste good?

But I digress—someone better come take this soapbox!

We should all be a little clearer on what we “need”—the things required for basic life support—and what we want—the stuff that we can do without but choose to have because it gives us pleasure.

I never “need” chocolate. I can live without it. But there are times when I would enjoy the taste of it. At those times, I “want” it.

My husband and I try to make this distinction whenever we go grocery shopping. As a result, we’ve cut our spending on groceries dramatically over the past few years. The best way to cure yourself of “wanting” is to go without for a while. The things you used to insist you “needed”—vanilla chai mix, cookies, corn or potato chips, frozen waffles—won’t be in the house to tempt you.

We’re not immune, of course. I’m not advocating being so Spartan in what you buy that you feel constantly deprived. But next time you’ve got that “value-pack” of gourmet salad dressings or whatever you’re holding in your hand and hear yourself say, “I need this,” stop and ask.

“Wait a minute. Do I really? Or is it just that I want it?”

There are many things I want, far fewer I truly need.

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Explore posts in the same categories: language, psychology

3 Comments on “Potent Words: Need Versus Want”


  1. What we need is definitely relative to everyone’s point of view. I think as we become wiser we tend to believe we need less. Our diet of energy changes with time. When we need something we contract our point of view. Because if we were open and accepting we would just accept whatever energy or stimulus that we are presented with in this moment. I believe need is the vocabulary of the ego. Do we need food, clothes, shelter, etc. I believe we don’t. We may have those things, but we don’t need them. When you need something, you are looking for something outside of your Self. If one accepts just what Is, then you have enough of everything. From many points of view, people will believe that they need things such as food to live. But when you don’t believe in death, then you don’t need to even eat. Energy is always being exchanged and consumed whether we put things in our mouths or not. Again, you can still eat, but the actual belief that you need to eat to survive is a limiting thought and clouds the world one lives in. We are what we believe we are? If we believe our thoughts, I contend we won’t live in this moment fully.

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Bernie,

    Great comments, and thought-provoking as usual. Thanks for visiting again.

    Another point is that, eventually, “need” and “want” merge. The universe provides us with abundance, regardless of whether we “need” or “want” it. It only knows to give, so it gives. We just have to ask.


  3. After reading the article, I feel that I really need more information on the topic. Could you suggest some resources ?


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