I read last night, in the Covey/Merrill book ‘First Things First’, about why otherwise successful-looking people were unhappy despite their success. They wrote, “—it became evident that there was a real difference between what people wanted and what they apparently needed in their lives. Many were achieving more and more goals…and feeling less and less happy and fulfilled.”

Probably belatedly, because of how many years I have been ‘doing’ this stuff, I realised that when people write down their values they often put down the things they are ‘supposed’ to value and neglect what they (a) truly value and (b) what they should value, but don’t write down because they perceive that they are fluffy, or too hard to meet.

Moreover, family, society, communities and organisations dictate to folk what they believe that those folk should value, and it doesn’t necessarily meet those folks’ needs. In fact, it may oppose them in some fashion. (And off I drift into the divisive Identity Politics of 2022….no.)

Anyway, I made a written note:

Meet a valued NEED over a valued WANT = success. Longer life, better relationships, the leaving of a legacy.

Meet a valued WANT over a valued NEED = fleeting satisfaction. An adrenaline rush, a new toy, five minutes on a  zip line for the price of half a tank of petrol.

 ‘Wants’ tend to reflect an emotional attachment to a ‘thing’ or state of being, whereas ‘Needs’ tend to reflect the true, underlying, psychological musts that are to be met if we are to stay sane.

The problem is – identifying the difference.

Meeting Wants is often easier, occasionally requiring nothing more than a matter of spending a bit of cash. (Occasionally foolishly spending money we don’t yet have.)

But meeting Needs requires more effort – yes, we need to live (buy food, fuel, etc.) but there is more to a Need than there is ever to a mere Want. Meeting a Need often requires properly identifying what is behind a Want, and focusing our efforts on meeting the Need another way. And that, my friends, is hard work!

I’ve written before on replacing the value ‘Excellence’ with the value ‘Effort’ because the former is often judge extrinsically – “Do you think I did an excellent job?”; whereas the latter is measured internally – “Have I put my all into this project?” I have control on the latter, but limited control over the former. The latter may influence the assessment of excellence, of course, but doesn’t determine it. I can work really hard and still do a poor job. And thus still fail despite meeting a personal value.

But I now find myself asking, “What need am I addressing when I value effort?” And I find myself asking whether it is because I really want others’ approval. Which means my value is not the want of effort, but is, in fact, the need of approval. Which may not be a good thing to value. On the other hand, if I need to know that people have benefitted from my work, then it’s an opportunity to redefine my values

Yes, this article’s a bit of a ramble. It’s intellectually challenging to realise that your long-standing list of values may reflect wants over needs, and that you’ve been labouring under a misunderstanding for years. And don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with wanting, but as Covey and the Merrill’s have suggested, if you Want at the expense of your Needs, then there be dragons.

Review your values. Ask yourself: “What is the need behind these things I want, and are they the same?” If they aren’t, you are truly on the way to a better life.