Wants vs Needs: Impact on Happiness

The difference between want and need is much larger than most of us imagine and it’s impact on our happiness is huge.


Need implies imperative. It’s imperative that we have food and water to survive. It’s imperative that we have shelter during foul weather. But much of what we say we need, doesn’t reach that level of urgency or necessity.

All too often people talk about needing a certain job, needing a new outfit or a new car when, in reality, that’s what they want. The problem with misusing the word “need” is that it raises your stress level. The more that you believe that you can’t live happily without something, the more stress you put on yourself to get it.

Along with greater stress, you risk generating feelings of scarcity, doubt, fear, anxiety and frustration. You feel a void because you don’t have what you “need” which, in turn, engenders feelings of scarcity. These feelings of scarcity create doubt about your ability to get what you “need.” The longer the “need” continues the more you’ll fear that you’re never going to get your “need” satisfied. That fear often leads to generalized feelings of anxiety and frustration. Prolonged periods of frustration often erupt into anger and behaviors that you later regret. Not a pretty picture.

Let’s contrast these feelings with the ones you experience with want.


Wanting something doesn’t rise to the level of imperative. You don’t feel that you can’t live without it or that it’s essential to your happiness. It, whatever it is, would be nice to have, but it doesn’t dictate how you feel about yourself. You can be quite happy with or without that new car or new outfit.

Because you don’t experience scarcity, you don’t pin your self-worth on attaining whatever it is you want. You may pursue it doggedly, but you do so without doubts about your ability to be successful. You do it without fear. You’re not anxious because you know that when you’ve been persistent in your efforts you always achieve what you want…not necessarily in the time frame you’d hoped, but you ultimately achieve your goal.

Because you’re not fraught with feelings of scarcity, doubt, fear and anxiety, you find that you can easily set aside the frustrations you experience when things don’t go as planned. You know from prior experience that things rarely go as planned and that missteps and unforeseen obstacles are inevitable. Consequently, you don’t waste time bemoaning them. Instead you move forward confidently, relishing the lessons you learned from things that didn’t go as planned. You also get what you want more quickly because you don’t waste time bemoaning how unfair life is.

For you – happiness

One of the simplest ways for you to enjoy happiness more consistently is to avoid elevating wants into needs. As you can see, the psychological impact between the two is dramatically different.

Here’s a tip. Start your day each day reviewing this simple statement:

“There is nothing I need. I am content with who I am and what I have achieved.

Pursuing what I want adds to the joy of living.”

For our kids – happiness

If ever there was a reason to lead by example, this is it. The more that you live joyfully, needing nothing, the greater the likelihood the kids in your life will emulate your behavior. As they do, they too will experience the joy of contentment with who they are as well as the joy of pursuing what they desire. They too will enjoy the best of both worlds.

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