The word need means to want something essential for the good of oneself or others, especially in a way that indicates an adverse outcome without that item: “I need some money to pay my rent”; “I need a job so I can get by.” People also talk about the needs of a community or organisation, such as demand for a certain type of business or for particular individuals with specific skills. This use of the term is related to a metaphysical idea about what human beings need to survive, and is common in the fields of philosophy, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, business, economics and politics.
The concept of need can be distinguished from the notion of want, in that need carries with it a sense of urgency and lack (often accompanied by the phrase “deficiency”), while want tends towards desires, wishes or aspirations, which are often more abstract, not immediately measurable and may have an uncertain outcome. The distinction between need and want is important in many fields, including philosophy, ethics, sociology, psychology, biology, social work, health care, business, marketing and economics.
In terms of behavioural analysis, need is a key element in the self-actualization theory of Abraham Maslow. His theory identifies several categories of human needs and explains how meeting them leads to higher levels of psychological and emotional fulfilment. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes basic physiological and safety needs, such as shelter, food and water; the need for connection and love – which he identified as a fourth level of need, tapping into the need to be loved and to feel part of a group; and the need for personal growth and achievement.
There are a number of ways to approach understanding what you need and want, but the most important is probably to become aware of your feelings, and then to identify the needs that they reveal. In order to meet the needs that you recognise, you may need to find different strategies to fulfil them. For example, if you need to connect with others, you can take steps to find and join groups or clubs that offer this opportunity. You could also try to improve your communication skills so that you can express your needs more effectively.
You need to be able to distinguish between your needs and your wants, so that you can create and execute a budget that will enable you to meet the former whilst also ensuring that you don’t exceed the limits of your ability to meet the latter. This can be difficult, but it is well worth it in the long run, and should help you to keep impulse buys under control. To achieve this, you should practice by asking yourself whether an item is a need or a want before purchasing it. This method can be particularly effective when applied to items such as clothing, cosmetics and electronic gadgets. However, it is likely that you will still struggle to separate some items from your wants.