NEEDS AND WANTS
fundamental need is to survive. This requires only water,
Given these, as individuals we do not 'need' ever more
possessions, ‘wealth’, jobs etc, and as societies we do not 'need' ever
more energy, economic 'growth' (whatever that means), government.
Everything we want other than water, food and shelter is just
that - want - desire.
But what is the
fundamental object of the many desires that we undoubtedly
I find I have to agree with the Dalai Llama - it is to be happy.
We must each define happiness for ourselves, of course but,
personally, I do not differentiate between the words 'happiness' and
'contentment' and define both as 'not wanting to be somewhere
else'. It has a slightly negative feel to it, but I suspect
will be hard pressed to find a better. I certainly do not
happiness with temporary elation or excitement, however much fun they
What then is the obstacle to happiness? It is distress - be
it physical, mental, or emotional.
Personal distress just has to be faced and dealt with and, to this
end, it is useful to differentiate very clearly between what we can
change and what we cannot and to set a true value on those things in
our lives that make us not 'want to be somewhere else'.
Distress in others however, unavoidably forms part of our own
distress. One cannot be completely happy while others are
not. Living in communities so
considerably improves our chances of continued access to water, food,
not to mention providing some protection against the vagaries of life –
natural disasters, other people, and pure bad luck etc - that it has
become a need in itself and we have evolved accordingly. We
are both unique individuals and empathic, co-operating
creatures – pack animals. It is in our deepest nature to be
of a group. Helping
others is thus essential for our own happiness.
Even if we wilfully drive their distress from our thoughts - as we
frequently have to, given the modern media’s pathological desire to
bring us ill news - it remains in our unconscious minds, a troubling
presence, a vague unease that no amount of wealth, material
possessions, or ‘excitement and elation’ can assuage.
The majority of people in this country are massively
advantaged. The availability of water, food, and shelter is
for granted, and even our more reasonable desires such as, freedom from
disease, freedom from State or personal violence, a generally ordered
and civilized society, are fulfilled to quite a reasonable
degree. By contrast many millions worldwide have no such
luxuries, and many in fact suffer appallingly.
The problem then is that the distress of millions mars our
aspirations towards happiness whether we want it to or not.
as individuals we can only do so much for them. Put at its
crudest, if you give all your wealth to others, then even if you are a
multi-millionaire, you will have a negligible effect, and you yourself
will have become a beggar and
be dependent on others.
The solution – as for many things - lies
in balance. Selfishness and altruism are inextricably linked.
Working for our own happiness necessarily includes concerning
ourselves about and helping others. The balance lies in
that the help should not go beyond the point where it impairs our own
ability to function largely unaided. Exactly what that
constitutes is highly personal, ranging from holding the door open for
someone or helping the old lady next door with her bins, to living and
working amongst poverty-stricken tribes overseas, but if you are uneasy
in your present life, looking to help others will almost certainly be
the best thing you can do.
Some associated, if
- To help others, you must value
them. To value them, you must value yourself.
Look after yourself – exercise mentally and physically – use it or lose
it - this is very important.
- We get good at what we do. This has a ‘dark’ side
– if you’re
doing negative things - moaning, giving up, doing nothing etc – you get
at it - very good at it.
- Never underestimate the effects of a small action.
not to be confused with trivial - both the Devil and God are in the
- Learn to value the moment you are in.
- Remember that in our highly complex society we are always
massively dependent on thousands of complete strangers