We are told that need and want are two very different things. However, anyone refusing a two-year-old an ice cream cone will see there is difficulty in recognizing the distinction. Human beings do not biologically need riches, or fine things, or extravagant surroundings. But then there are our minds.
By nature, we are striving creatures. This is what makes human beings incredible. We are not content to lie down, to rest on our laurels, or to stop moving forward. Striving is what has given us electricity, art, phones, the internet, and freed us from diseases.
In some ways, minimalism can feel contrary to this urge. It tells us to want less, to make use of what we have, and to rest. Striving balks at this.
This has been one of the most difficult aspects for me personally. I am ambitious by nature. I am always seeking ways to improve myself. The acquisition of newer and better possessions seems part and parcel of such upward motion.
This is based on a misapprehension.
Psychologically, we need love, approval, community, a sense of accomplishment. These are worthy aims worth striving towards. Indeed, they are factors which contribute to our mental health and self-esteem. This idea is encapsulated in the ideas of thinkers like Maslow.
Our problem arises in believing we need the means, rather than the end. We conflate the nice car with the sense of accomplishment. We confuse material success with approval. Thus, we become incapable of distinguishing between our very real need of psychological supports, and superficial means of obtaining them.
There is a very good reason for this, however. That reason being- difficulty. It is much easier to buy a car than to accomplish something great. It is much easier to look successful than to create a real and lasting contribution to the world.
So how do we use this knowledge to shift out of the cycle of needing more?
1. Identify what need you are trying to fill. Your pursuit of an external object is about an internal need. What is that need? Are you buying a car to prove you are enough? Do you need an expensive handbag so people will give you respect? Identify the intangible psychological need.
2. Determine a way to truly meet that need. If a handbag is giving you self-esteem, there is a problem. I don’t say this out of judgment, but out of painful experience. Determine a true solution to your need. If you lack self-esteem, determine a course of action to correct that. Perhaps that means therapy, or coaching, or taking up an activity that bolsters your confidence. Remember, superficial solutions will never resolve the hungry ghost. You will always need more, until you satiate the true hunger.
3. Practice dis-identifying with your possessions. The more we identify with our means, the more we suffer. If we believe our possessions dictate our value or our identity, we are a slave to mere objects. Moreover, if and when times change, and we are forced to give up those objects; a piece of our worth and identity go with them.
4. Strive for the ends, not the means. The desire to be better is a noble one; one that should not be wasted in seeking a fancy house or a new boat. Keep your ambitious heart, but redirect it to aims that are worthy of you. Strive to create, to contribute, to build something representative of your ideas and values.
These items are difficult, but the road you take to achieve them will create a life where your true needs are met by meaningful ends.
About the Author: A.M. Wegner is a writer who focuses on self-development. Read more about her at alisonwegner.ca.