Let’s Talk About… Needs

By Jeremy Godwin

What are needs? What are wants? And how do you tell the difference between the two — and why does that matter? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 26 June, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 137, and thanks so much for joining me!

I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.

This episode is all about needs and I’ll be talking about what needs are (and what they are not), why understanding your needs matters, and how to manage your needs in a healthy way. So, let’s talk!

Just quickly, a reminder that my book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One), is due for release on July 7, 2022 — you can pre-order the eBook now (it’s linked in the episode description) plus it will be available in print from Amazon on the release date (no pre-orders are available for the print version)… thank you to everyone who has already ordered it and if you haven’t done so yet then please do! 

Alright, now on with this week’s episode about needs…

Introduction

Funnily enough, for the past couple of weeks I have been having a lot of conversations with a lot of people (including many of my clients) about needs… which is funny because I chose this topic months ago, so I’m not sure if that’s just a random coincidence or if it’s because I’m hyper-aware of the whole wants versus needs thing at the moment because of this topic, or a combination of both. Regardless, it appears that I need to talk about needs… which is fortunate, given that that is this week’s topic!

Take a look through the back catalogue of popular music over the past 50-plus years and it seems like there’s a whole lot of neediness going on; in 1967, The Beatles claimed that All You Need Is Love (not true, by the way — oxygen is a lot more important!) and from there it was all downhill in terms of just how much we seemed to need a whole bunch of different things.

I’m going to say something mildly controversial to start off with today: the majority of the things we think we need are actually just wants, and in fact our entire global economic system has been built on the idea that a ‘want’ is actually a fundamental ‘need’ — now, I’m not suggesting we stop living the way we do (and goodness knows I’m no saint when it comes to buying things; if you saw my Amazon purchase history you’d probably wind up exhausted by the time you finished reading it all) but the point is this: when we treat our wants as needs, it directly influences the choices we have to make in order to support those wants. In other words, if you think you need more stuff then you have to find more money to pay for that stuff (not to mention having to find somewhere to put it all), and it’s the same with lots of other aspects of our lives, like relationships and friendships. And then the other thing we need to consider is that what you want might not necessarily be what you actually need. Knowing the difference between your needs and your wants helps you to make smarter choices, which in turn contributes to better mental health and wellbeing. 

So, let’s look at some definitions and let’s talk about…

What are needs?

Your needs are, at their most fundamental and basic level, the things you need to survive: air, water, food, sleep and shelter. Without those things you will die. There’s more to it than just those basic needs, and I’ll come back to that shortly, but the thing I want to highlight first is that most of the stuff we think we need are actually wants; in other words, our desires. Not getting our wants will not kill us (unlike a lack of air or water)… sure, it might feel like you may die from embarrassment if you have to use a three-year-old iPhone, but I promise that you will survive even if at first you are afraid, you are petrified (just like Gloria Gaynor). 

Here’s the thing though: wants are what add spice and variety to our lives, and so by no means am I saying that you should give up all of your wants because, well, how boring would life be if we just did the bare minimum that we had to in order to survive? There has to be some colour and joy in amongst all the rest of it, and so the piece here is about being thoughtful and considered in the wants that you choose to pursue; in other words, understanding what will bring you true and lasting satisfaction and then making choices that are in line with your priorities.

So, I mentioned earlier that there are more needs that we have than just the bare minimum to survive, and anyone who has ever read a self help book or taken a psychology class would probably have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which is quite possibly one of the most well-known theories on human motivation out there (and I’ve mentioned it a few times in past episodes of this show). I won’t bore you with the full textbook description of the theory but, in essence, it suggests that it is our various needs and whether or not they’re being met that then drive us to respond and behave accordingly. Maslow suggested that there are five levels of needs starting from the most foundational through to our higher level needs and covering our physiological needs (like breathing, water, food etc.), our safety needs (like having a secure home, being able to earn money to support ourselves etc.), our love and belonging needs (like friendship, family, intimacy, and so on), our esteem needs (like confidence and self esteem, as well as achievement and respect), and, finally, our self-actualisation needs (which is about feeling like we are fulfilling our potential as individuals by drawing on our talents and capabilities). 

So why do I share all of that? Well, there are two reasons. First, Maslow’s theory suggests that it is our needs that drives us and push us forward… which I think makes sense, otherwise why do we do half the things that we do on a day-to-day basis? I mean, I do this podcast and the work I do because I have a need to feel like I’m doing work that feels meaningful and which draws on my skills and experience, otherwise I wouldn’t feel compelled to put so much time and effort into what I create each week. And the second reason why I shared the hierarchy of needs theory is this: Maslow suggests that if our more basic, fundamental needs are not being met consistently then it can actually make it extremely difficult to make any progress in our higher-level needs. Think of it this way: if you’re struggling to keep putting food on your table, you’re probably going to make choices that prioritise that basic need over any other concerns. One example of that which springs to mind in my own life is the choice that I made when I finished high school to go straight into a full-time job rather than going to university; I needed my own money to get out of home, since it wasn’t a safe environment, and so any notions of going to uni went out the window because I needed a job so I could get out of there (and I did, very quickly; I finally ended up going to uni in my late 30’s when I was in a very different place in my life in terms of my needs and my priorities). 

Anyway, that leads to the next part of this conversation, which is…

Why understanding your needs matters

And it matters because a lot of the things we think we cannot possibly live without are actually just wants, not needs. That’s an important distinction to make because, when we chase after our wants as though they are needs, we can end up making choices that potentially steer us away from what we actually need. For example, I’ve said very openly that I only work with a handful of clients one-on-one and my books are closed for the foreseeable future, because I have to balance my desire to earn an income with my need for a life that feels like a good fit for me… and working 40, 50, 60 hours a week isn’t what I want or need, even though working more hours would add more to my bank account. What I need is to feel like I’m doing work I feel proud of and fulfilled by, but to be able to do that in a way that allows me plenty of time to live a well-rounded life away from my work. For example, on the day I’m recording this it’s a Friday and I’m planning to finish work by 2pm at the latest so I can reward myself for the effort I’ve put in all week.

I think that creative people, in particular, are notorious for allowing our work to encroach into all corners of our life (I mean, I do it sometimes… especially when I’m struck by inspiration out of nowhere) and I think, actually, that regardless of what you do with your time or what you do for work, it’s so easy to get focused on all the things that we could possibly be doing with our time. However, the more you do the more you need to make sacrifices; for example, the more you commit yourself to financial and lifestyle choices, the more you have to earn to maintain that… and so the harder you have to work, resulting in less time for stuff outside of work. I feel like I do a fair bit of vocal bashing of our work, work, work lifestyle (and maybe I do) but I guess that, for me at least, every time I’ve ever sat down and made a list of what truly matters most to me in life, it’s never ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ at the top of that list, but instead it’s the individuals I care most about as well a sense of using my time on this planet to do something that feels purposeful and meaningful in some small way. And so if that’s what my priorities are, guess where my needs focus on? My needs are about making those things my highest priority and then deciding on what to do with all the other stuff that will always be competing for my attention or trying to tempt me. The choices you make directly shape what you then have to do in order to support those choices; don’t let what you want distract you from what you actually need.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, besides our most fundamental needs (that I mentioned earlier) I think that, for most of us, our biggest need in life is actually to be seen, valued and respected as a human being, both by other people and by ourselves. Actually, I think that we mainly just want and need to be loved for who we really are… and a lot of the things we choose to do are just attempts to make that happen. Otherwise, what’s the point without at least one other person to witness the truth of who and what we are, and to say, “hey, I see you and you have value.” And maybe sometimes it’s tough to be that cheer squad for ourselves, and so we just need someone else to show us that it’s OK to be who we are and that it really is possible to love ourselves and accept ourselves, flaws and all. 

You know, when you’re a kid you think that you need to have every toy in the store and that you most definitely need to have chocolate cake for breakfast every day, but once you reach adulthood you begin to realise that those are actually just wants (and not particularly sustainable ones; there is a point in the ageing process where just looking at cake will see you gain weight and it’s called the age I am right now!). This is that bit I mentioned before about the fact that what you want may not actually be what you really need. I think of ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ this way: our ‘needs’ are what we require, whereas our ‘wants’ are what we desire. Think of needs like the basic cake mix and then the wants are the flavours that you add to make it more than just flour, eggs and water (no idea why I’m apparently obsessed with cake at the moment, maybe because it’s my birthday in early July so I’m deciding on what I want!). 

That doesn’t mean that wants are bad or that we should just disregard them (because honestly, how boring would life be if we just covered the bare minimum of what we need in order to survive?!)… but, knowing the difference between your needs and your wants helps you to make smarter choices in life. For example, you might want to pay for all of the different television streaming services but do you really need them? Probably not! Our needs give us purpose and direction; our wants give us options about how to bring our needs to life… we just have to understand that the choices we make will have some sort of consequence in terms of what we need to do or the price we need to pay. That’s where it pays to really be honest with yourself about what is a ‘want’ versus what is a genuine ‘need’, and what the price of any given ‘want’ is. Like, if I wanted to live back in the city (I don’t, but just for the sake of an example) then I would have to make very different choices in terms of the work I do compared with how my life is living in a small country town where the cost of living is so much lower. So I would need to weigh up the cost of that desire versus what I would be willing to do in order to make it happen… in that case, the cost is too high (in terms of the actual cost as well as what that would do to my time and quality of life). You just have to be able to be honest with yourself and know the difference between a desire and an actual requirement; I mean, even the Spice Girls knew the difference between a want and a need (and, yes, that’s basically just an opportunity for me to say “tell me what you want, what you really really want”).

So, how do you do all of that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…

How to manage your needs in a healthy way

OK, first, define what you need most — and for most of us this goes hand-in-hand with our priorities in life (which I talk about a lot and which I covered all the way back in Episode 3 when I was a baby podcaster with just a cheap microphone and a dream). We each have our own things that matter most to us and for a lot of us our highest priorities are often those we care about the most; for me, it’s my partner and our cat, as well as my family and friends, and then beyond that it’s about having the freedom to create my own destiny and being able to do work that feels meaningful. Being able to identify those priorities and needs for yourself helps you to better identify what actually matters to you, and that matters because it will inform what you do next. And speaking of that, my next point is…

Ask yourself why something is a priority — and this is something that I don’t think many of us consciously do very often, which is totally understandable and so I’m going to gently (or not-so-gently!) encourage you to pause and think about why your priorities and needs are so important to you. For example, I think for a lot of us we know instinctively that our closest relationships matter but do we ever stop and think about why? In the case of my partner and I, for me I feel like it’s because we support one another and give unconditional love, which means we have this place in life where we can be our most true and authentic selves and not be judged for it and that fulfils this really basic and fundamental need to be seen and valued as a human being. Does that make sense? Anyway, hopefully you get my point here which is to be clear on why something matters to you in order to better understand its importance. Why? Because you need to know that for my next point, which is…

Know what you want and what you need, and focus on bringing the two into alignment — because when you can do that, you’re better able to be objective about what you’re doing and why which, in turn, helps you to find greater balance in life. I’ve talked about how to do that a few times in past episodes, like Episode 49 about finding balance and Episode 113 about planning. OK, next…

If something is a want, not a need, consider its value to you — and by that I mean its value in terms of what it offers to you by pursuing it. I talked about my work earlier and my need to do work that I find meaningful, but the fact is that creating this podcast and my YouTube channel is a want, not a need; I do it to fulfil that need, but I could do that in thousands, if not millions, of different ways. I want to do this because I enjoy it and because it’s fantastic to see my work helping people just as it’s rewarding to see my stuff performing well in terms of number of plays or whatever. There is a value there that it adds which I probably wouldn’t find if I tried to achieve my need by working full-time as a counsellor, for example. So, think about what that value is to you (and if you’re not sure then maybe that’s a sign that it’s not that valuable to you, in which case I’d encourage you to think about whether it’s worth it or not). Speaking of ‘worth’, my next point is…

Identify the ‘cost’ of a want or desire — because all actions come with a price, in terms of what you have to do to make it happen or to sustain it. When you know what a choice is going to require of you, physically and emotionally, you can then make an informed choice about whether or not that price is worth it (and, by the way, you can always change your mind at a later date). Remember that with enough time, effort and perseverance you can basically have, be and do anything you want… it’s just about how much you’re prepared to sacrifice to make it happen, and if that comes at the cost of one or more of your needs then you’ll probably find yourself in a world of trouble. Remember that there’s a huge difference between constantly chasing moments of happiness versus building long-lasting satisfaction in your life (which I talked about back in Episode 110). OK, next…

Respect your needs above all things — because when you ignore your needs, you make it harder to find true satisfaction in life. I started the how-to section today by highlighting that you need to know what your needs are, and now I’m adding to that in terms of saying to make them a priority (and I mean to actually make them a priority, not to say they are and then let yourself get distracted by every other bright, shiny object that comes your way). Consider your needs level by level (in other words, physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, then self actualisation) and then think about how you’re actually making time for what truly matters to you. For example, if your friendships are high on the needs list but you’re not making time to connect with friends then you’re kind-of shooting yourself in the foot! Think about how your goals align to your needs and then give the bulk of your time and attention to fulfilling your needs… and can I also just say here, since I mentioned friendships and that made me think about relationships in general, that it’s important that you make the quality of your connections with others a priority — it’s less about the number of people in your life than it is the quality of those relationships. OK, next…

If you’re not sure if something is a need or a want, ask yourself if you could survive without it — and this is, to my mind, probably the simplest way to look at this whole topic, because most things we can actually survive without (even if it would be uncomfortable or sad). That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your desires; it just helps you to put them into context and it ensures they have less power over you (because when we think we need something we often go out of our way to try and make it happen, which can cause us a lot of unnecessary suffering). Alright, next… 

Communicate what you need to others — because as I have said many times in past episodes, other people cannot read your mind so you need to help them understand what you need and why it matters to you (and also I encourage you to find out the same from them), and I discussed how to do that in Episode 134 about communication. OK, next… 

Be what you need — because it is your responsibility to fulfil your needs, not someone else’s. A healthy relationship, regardless of what type it is (friend, partner, family, whatever), is one that complements your life rather than completes it. You need to be what you need, and I encourage you to really consider what you might need in order to become the best version of yourself possible little by little each day. And, by the way, I covered love back in Episode 127 and friendship in Episode 115, so you may find those helpful.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to needs and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: What you need and what you want might not necessarily be the same thing, but when you’re able to bring what you require and what you desire into alignment then it helps you to set a solid foundation for a life that feels more satisfying. By all means create some spice and variety in your life by pursuing your desires, but take the time to ensure they are healthy desires and that you understand their price so that you can make an informed choice which prioritises your most fundamental needs first and foremost. 

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:

“Sometimes we are so focused on what we want, we miss the things we need.”

Unknown

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about values. Who are you and what do you stand for? It’s a fairly big question and it’s one that goes to the core of our identity as human beings, because our values shape what we do and do not do with our time on this planet. But what are values and how do they influence your mental health? Well, that’s what I’m exploring in the next episode of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast. I’ll be talking about what values are (and what they’re not), why understanding your values matters, and how to manage your values in a healthy way.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 3rd of July, 2022. 

If this episode helped you then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on, or head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description, plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au (where you can also sign up for my free newsletter, where I share a quick dose of mental health inspiration every Thursday).

And I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday… so, if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health, join me over there (and that’s linked in the episode description as well)!

Plus a quick reminder that pre-orders for my book are open now, ahead of the book’s release on July 7 (2022); check the episode description for links.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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