What’s the Difference Between Want & Need?

wants_needsA friend of mine asked me this question last night. My first response was that need seems to be more associated with survival and identity than want. Want can have a sense of expansion, but I don’t notice that with need.

Of course, we are talking mostly about emotional and psychological issues around want and need. But, anytime we talk about deep psychological and emotional content, we have to bring in the body because there is a deep connection between the body and survival issues – even when they are figments of our imagination.

The dictionary says that want is to need, to feel need, to desire or wish. Etymology of Want:  Middle English, from Old Norse vanta; akin to Old English wan deficient

The same dictionary says need is a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful –  a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism. Etymology of Need: Middle English ned, from Old English n?ed, n?d; akin to Old High German n?t distress, need.

The energetic dynamics in the body/mind seem different to me around want and need. Want seems to have more of a reaching or grasping quality to me than need. Need feels more connected with necessary or required than want.

I can want a new pair of shoes even if I have 5 pairs, but if I only have one pair with holes in the soles – I need a new pair of shoes. If I just bought a new outfit and don’t have shoes to match – I need a new pair of shoes to match the outfit, but I don’t necessarily need them to survive. Of course, if my identity is deeply tied to the image of me in the new outfit and a projected outcome of wearing it, my survival needs might be very high around that pair of shoes that I absolutely need.

I may want love or approval, but if I see the lack of it a temporary, it doesn’t necessarily threaten my identity or existence – if it does, then I may feel a desperate need, a deficient emptiness around it at the core of my being that feels like a survival need.

What say you about want versus need? Am I splitting hairs?

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