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The Foundation for Lasting Satisfaction: Wants vs Needs

Us humans are really bad at knowing what we want. There is a great book on how just how bad we are called Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (You can also watch this TedTalk ). Personally, I think the reason for this is that we think the outside world can give us the internal emotions that we want from the outside.

Often times it can’t.

Losing weight doesn’t make you happy…at least not without changing your mindset around it. A new car or that promotion doesn’t bring lasting happiness. A new relationship, by itself, doesn’t make you happier.

The question is why? Because it’s not giving us what we need.

You see, I believe our wants are what our ego desires. What we plan and prod for outside in the world, all to help us to feel a certain way.

The problem is, our needs are almost always, beyond basic necessities like food and shelter, based on our emotions.

We want a nice car, and a good spouse, and a good job. Those are wants, but what we are really saying is we have an inherent Need to Feel worthy, to feel love, and to feel secure.

This is why our wants, unmitigated, can NEVER give us what we Need. A quick example is Trump. Here’s a guy who’s been rich his whole life, fucking became president of the United States, yet, I would dare say, that NOTHING would ever satisfy the gaping hole he has in his heart.

Because it’s not about getting what we want. It’s about finding out what can satisfy the deeper need within.

What we are trying to get from the outside, with our wants, are really us grappling to find our internal needs: to feel connected, safe, loved, filled with hope, awe, and wonder. But rarely do we ever take a minute to quiet the mind, to look beyond the wants, the wants that every company says we should “strive for,” and instead seek out what lies underneath the want, to the emotional need within.

Feed Your Demons

“You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometime you find You get what you need” ~ The Rolling Stones

There’s a book called Feeding Your Demons (you can watch a 5-minute clip about it here: Feeding the Demons), which discusses a meditation practice called Chöd, in which you make your fears and emotions into actual “demons.” In the book, the author Tsultrim Allione, changes the meditation practice, so you actually feed your demons, instead of being fearful of them. It is only by bringing our demons out into the light and then feeding them what they need, do they lose their power over you.

The first two steps in the practice, are to recognize the emotion you’re having and to identify where those emotions are within your body. Once you do that, you give that “demon” form. I remember reading this and thinking it was interesting because of the amount of overlap this practice has with somatic psychotherapy in the introspective aspects of emotions (ie., newer research on trauma and emotional regulation use similar techniques). In this way, you recognize that your emotions are not you, but often do have a come from a place that “lives within your body.”

Once you can separate your Self from your “Demon” you can talk with it and ask it questions.

  1. The first question you ask this “demon” is, “What do you want?” I think this question is powerful, because often times, this is the superficial aspect we get lost in. It’s good to notice it, know it, and recognize that our wants rarely lead us to lasting satisfaction. They’re typically ego driven, and are often incarnations of our basest fears and desires. They don’t get to the root of who we are, or what would make our lives more worthwhile.
  2. The second question you ask this “demon” is, “What do you need?” This question is often much more aligned with our “higher selves.” It moves past the ego, more to the core of who you are, and this answer is often VERY different than what we want. It moves past our superficial fears, often to the emotions that we need to feel “complete or whole,” that leads us to lasting satisfaction.

I think often times, it is easy to get lost in our wants. We want to watch 10 new TV series. We want to see our friends and family, now! We want things the way they were before the pandemic. We want, we want, we want…and all we see are the things we’re unsatisfied with.

But maybe, it’s time to start asking that second question of What do we need? That’s usually a less reactive question. It’s quieter and simpler. Only you can answer it, but when you start asking, you start to cut through the foray of what the world says you should want, to find that most of the time, what you need deals with your emotions and with connection to your higher self and others.

I guess you might be asking yourself, “How does this relate to working out and eating healthy?” That’s a fair question, but personally, I think being able to cut through the wants, in order to find the needs of what you’re really striving for when you undertake eating healthier and working out, can lay the foundation of lasting satisfaction and success on this quest.

So the next time you start getting lost in the dissatisfaction brought about from all your wants, maybe ask yourself the quieter question of, what is it that you need?