The Balancing Act of Wants Vs. Needs

Scott Leonardi

A trap we all fall into when practicing trying to speak truthfully is that there will always be an eternal paradox within us that creates a duality of mind down to our core.

With the near-infinite potential of human imagination and the finite circumstance we physically find ourselves in, it’s no wonder that that contradiction stems through our psyche and into our everyday decision-making. The romanticized ideal for ourselves that we strive for is juxtaposed with our mundane and trivial daily reality.

There are the things we want, and the things we need.

It’s an interesting question to consider if we would still want the things we want if we did not need the things we need.

I guess that would depend on what exactly you want. If you figured out the problem of ending the human need for food and water and took out the nasty issue of aging, what would become a new necessity? If you never aged or weakened or died, what then could you need? I think our needs would probably then become ones of knowledge and the never-ending acquisition of it. But, although entertaining the idea of stepping out of our Earthly coils and sailing the cosmos as black hole brains, sucking up any and all information about reality and the nature of it is fun, let’s save that for another time. I’m asserting that the very basic contradictions we have at the core of our reality bleed into an unfolding neurosis as we live our lives and are faced with looming glare of CHOICE.

Let’s take love.

We can love someone, love everything about them, and still know that they aren’t good for us and we shouldn’t be in a relationship with them. We can love them to the ends of infinity and one day wake up with a seed of doubt nestled in a place in your mind you may have neglected. Now, suddenly the light around this person you once loved is tainted in the faintest way. Over time this doubt grows and eventually you find yourself inexplicably in a sort of passion purgatory. You’re not in a place where your lover is suddenly a stranger, but you know for a fact it is not the reality you once knew. You end up living in the crossroads of knowing in your heart that you love this person, and simultaneously seeing that your time together is over. You want things to be simple, you want to love them enough to be with them forever, but you know you need something else. You need your paths to diverge for the sake of you both.

How can you reconcile this split? I think a lot of people, especially those in marriages they may or may not be entirely satisfied with, will tell you that it’s a completely natural part of any relationship that the fire that started it will eventually fade into a solid sustainable love that can endure any hardship, but I don’t think I’m talking about the same thing. I do believe those people who say any fire will fizzle, but I don’t agree that you should willingly give up your own well-being and potentially your mental health for something you know is a losing game. Making a lifelong commitment and sticking to your guns when the tough times come is one thing, letting your soul shrink and your inner howls of freedom reluctantly subside because of self-generated obligations or social pressures is another entirely.

This is just one example of how it’s possible to live in contradiction, but the situations we find ourselves in are boundless. The eternal contrast of Wants and Needs is a laundry list longer than Santa’s scroll. Our safest bet, as far as I’m learning to understand, is that we need to reside our time in the middle of these opposing forces. Needs are essential, obviously, if for nothing else but to keep us alive, but Wants can be a strong driving force when it comes to human innovation and creativity. However, not always.

A primitive tribe doesn’t invent new technologies because they want to, it’s normally due to some need that the population has as a whole. New weaponry and safer, more expansive shelters aren’t created as a want to just have them. As a population grows, so does it’s need for efficiency in terms of sustenance and protection. You need to feed more people, so you need to hunt more game, so you need better weapons and more hunters and more places for those hunters and their families to live and so on. Thus, the human brain takes the stage and, with an outstretched hand holding the light of the future, hands us the insight to formulate newer and more exploratory means of achieving our goals.

So, in this respect, Needs and Wants can get caught up in each other, but this could very well be because as humans we are able to have Wants at all and actually act on them, bringing them into reality. Our incessant thinking and data processing beckons us away from our status quo to see past what we have and into what is possible. Maybe turning the timetable back to when we were cavemen was a bit too far on the dial because that far back, wants and needs have to be tied together out of necessity. You don’t want your tribe to survive, you need them to. You don’t want to hunt an apex predator knowing it could easily rip your throat out, you have to. So, we can more easily use the modern age to better illustrate this same idea.

We have it easy in modern times and there aren’t many things people strive for other than their Wants. Our Needs are pretty easily met. Food, water, shelter. Check, check, and check. There are obvious exceptions, but I’m not talking about people living third-world lives or the cardboard-carrying nickel flipper on the side of the road. For those of us that have had the luck of being born into your average modern life, basic needs are almost a given. Beyond that, what more could we need?

Well, we may not need much, but that’s when our Wants peak around our periphery and guides us into a world of desires which exists to entertain, enlighten, satisfy curiosity, scratch our itches, tickle our funny bones, open the windows to our souls, and which can simultaneously give us the insight into the possibilities of every human potential and also the psyche-squeezing horrors of violence, addiction, aimlessness, suicide, depression, anxiety, existential meltdowns, and a cacophony of others ailments which can haunt the human condition.

Our lot in life is to see our split. To understand our impulses and befriend our shadow. When we refuse to let our desires be a source of pain or try to ignore our nature, we risk letting those impulses control us and lead us down the paths we know will end with us staring at a mirror at a reflection we barely recognize as our own. To be on equal footing with what seems to be the worst parts of ourselves gives us the chance to choose our path, not to have that choice made for us by overpowering darkness that we haven’t taken the time to train. Like breaking a demon stallion. When we can master our darkest characteristics, we can ride them with confidence and understand what it takes to abate them instead of fearing that they may slip from our control and buck us back to the Land of the Arrogant.

Straddle that saddle over the split in your mind like it was carved and cured just for you because it was. The balancing act between our best and worst lies behind every decision we make and the more we practice not falling off either side the more capable we become in finding out who we really are, what we really want, and how we can be better able to conquer the fears within us holding us back from a true inner balance.



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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at

Imperial Beach, CA

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