Do we know what our true needs or wants are? It has become increasingly difficult to navigate the difference in an environment where both have become interchangeable. This is a topic that has been on my mind for quite some time and apropos to discuss given the holiday season. Additionally, the topic of wants and needs has made guest appearances in several recent conversations so it is only fair to write about it. Thus, I ask you to ponder what is the boundary between your needs and your wants?

I was in Mocha Joe's the other day when I caught the conversation of a young fellow stating his societal frustrations. He lamented about that fact that our culture has become dependent upon our wants. His concerns eventually morphed into a small group discussion about determining what was an actual need versus want. Let's take the internet as an example. Accessible wifi connection has become a need during vacation time, at home, at work, etc. Restaurants, hotels and bus companies like Greyhound attract customers by advertising access to the Internet.

The Internet has become an amazing tool for helping to connect individuals to their basic needs especially in regards to building/maintain human relationship. We have also come in contact with our many wants as well. Having access to the Internet was once an option but now has transformed into a requirement for every moment of human life. It raises the question of whether or not we have manufactured it as a need or has it become a real need because of the changes in our environment?

In the midst of this quandary, it is difficult not to think about all of the things that have become needs. 4G instead of 3G connection for our phones, certain kinds of appliances, required living space, etc. Additionally, we have come to identify other "needs" such as: sheets with high thread count, specific clothing labels, various forms of entertainment, a certain car model, coffee from a particular coffeehouse, organic food, fancy mattresses, etc. Perhaps many of these things are often identified as a need because they aid in the ease of daily life. For instance, a cell phone with fast connection especially to email provides ease of communication without requiring access to a computer.

Revisiting Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow introduced his theory of human needs. The theory includes the most basic or physiological needs like breathing, water, shelter, and homeostasis on the first level of the pyramid. Other levels of needs include safety/security, Love/belonging and eventually self-actualization. While these are still valid, we can't deny that needs like safety and shelter have morphed beyond mere necessity. In other words, it is not just any shelter but it is the fancy shelter with excess living space, not just any food but the food that is proven to be organic and/or local.

I am not saying that the blurred line between needs/wants is a problem. However, this blur might cause occasional societal/personal dilemmas. Perhaps the challenge we face is redefining needs versus wants especially in the context of the Maslow theory. Have all of these things become needs because we have evolved to a world that requires certain things that help us with simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, or being connected to each other? Is it less important to place these things on opposite ends and instead recognize that comforts and many other things shift between need and want? We are constantly becoming different selves and having different experiences as the context of our needs/wants change, so why bother with being bothered. In fact, it wouldn't be appropriate to compare human needs/wants of 100 years ago to now because life and the nuances of our needs/wants are different. Thus, the concept of basic needs may be about as "basic" as the time, context, and culture and group of people dictate.

I have recently observed that the negotiation of needs and wants (among other things) has caused several individuals to sit out of the holidays. These particular individuals recognized that they would be given items from individuals who perceived their wants/needs as opposed to fulfilling true needs. This adds another dimension when another individual (or group of individuals) determine your needs or wants. At that point how can you decide what is your need/want outside of what has been defined for you? As you do your shopping or use this moment to recharge, think items or ideals that others have defined for you? Have you have participated in defining or perceiving the needs/wants for others? If so, how are you seeking to define these things for yourself?

These questions are not easy to answer but a way of challenging what it is we think we generally need or want. I will share with you a personal vignette about how I bumped into my own needs/wants within a particular moment. A couple of weeks ago, I left my computer cord at work and my laptop was low on battery. I was on the verge of a mini meltdown due to not having access to the Internet because I needed it to work, send emails, chat, etc. Instead of running back to the office to put an end to my misery, I decided to use that night to write and decorate letters to a few friends. It was something I'd put off for some time but this felt like the ideal time to do it. During this moment, I recalled how I often joked about the forgotten time before email or surfing the web. I was put back in touch with what I needed as opposed to wanted all because of a forgotten computer cord. I also realized that maybe it was not about needs versus wants after all. Instead it is about making space for our constantly-shifting-sometimes- interchangeable needs and wants to produce the sweet spot.

Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can follow her writing at her blog, Real Talk (