Sunday, May 07, 2006

Make yourself happy: work out your true needs

Its important to have goals. They keep you focused and working towards a better life for yourself. However, before you formulate your goals you need to do a little bit of analysis to work out your true needs/desires.

What do I mean by this?

Well, we all have Human needs. We have the basic needs like food, drink, rest. Then some slightly more complex ones like entertainment, love and sex. Then some even more complex ones like recognition, social interaction and self-respect. Nevertheless they are all basic, in-built Human needs. We'll call them primary needs.

What would a secondary need be? Well, if food is a primary need, a secondary need would be a sandwich. A sandwich is just one of many ways of meeting your primary need for food.

Now, your primary needs are the only things that really matter. Secondary needs are optional, and flexible. Yes, you NEED food. But you don't necessarily need a sandwich, you could eat another form of food.

Hopefully that is blindingly obvious to you so far!

But even though its obvious with the basic need of food, most people forget this pattern when it comes to the other, slightly more complex primary needs. For instance, people often get caught in the trap of unneccesary desires when it comes to things like wanting a ferari, or wanting a particular girl to date them. People can convince themselves that they will be miserable unless they have that ferari (or any other particular material item), or unless Karen becomes their girlfriend.

But why do they REALLY want those things? If they thought about it, they would realise that they want a ferari because they have certain, more basic needs that it would satisfy: a need for transportation, freedom, admiration of others, etc. Incidentally, with any material item I would always recommend you think twice if your main reason for wanting it is to impress others in order to make them like and admire you. Often such luxury items have the OPPOSITE effect and merely make people jealous towards you. So, with our example of the Ferari, there are clearly other ways to meet those needs. For example, a more basic car would meet your needs for transportation. And any number of other things might impress others. The same goes for the example of feeling you NEED to have Karen as your girlfriend. Karen as a girlfriend would meet a number of your basic needs: companionship, sex, love etc. But she is only one of many ways you could meet those needs. While you may NEED companionship, love and sex, you do not NEED Karen. I hope the difference is starting to sink in?

This all may sound simple, but its a technique that can save you a lot of frustration in life. This is because we usually set ourselves large or impossible goals, then just give up on them because they are so unattainable. And because we give up on them we feel miserable as the needs that that goal would have satisfied are not being met. If, instead, we took the time to analyse WHY we wanted that goal, and then checked that there wasn't an alternative, simpler, or more practical way of meeting that need, we wouldn't end up so frustrated.

Heres an example. Say a young boy grows up with the goal of becomming an astronaut. But as he gets older he realises the odds are against him doing this, and after a number of years his dream is forgotten as he gives up all hope of persuing it. But one day he starts thinking a bit more deeply about this goal, and he realises that the desire to become an astronaut was actually driven by the more basic desires to (1) Travel, (2) experience weightlessness. He thinks to himself: is there a more simple, practical way to satisfy those needs? Yes: learn to SCUBA dive!

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