We need to earn money. We need to use that money to buy things. What things? Clothes, food, cars, houses, tricks and trinkets, experiences and memories. But looking around, I can’t see much evidence to back that up. I can’t see why we need to be working long, stressful hours. I am blind to the idea of needing to buy lots and lots of objects to elevate our social status.
The concept of ‘need’ is a contentious one. Humans need food and water, shelter, safety and socialisation. I understand and agree with the concept of need as providing our basic human rights for survival. But need, in the way we use the expression in our society today, has been manipulated extensively without many of us even realising.
Remember when you were little? Chances are one or both of your parents told you “I want doesn’t get”. We’re taught from an early age it’s rude to want things. But that feeling doesn’t go away. Just because we’re told not to vocalise our wants, this doesn’t stop us wanting things. So, as we grow older, we change our language instead to something more socially acceptable. We say need..but a lot of the time, we really mean want.
To need something is to bypass selfishness and ego. To equate this feeling of desire for an object with a true need makes us feel less guilty for vocalising our desire. And indeed, consumer society has played along gleefully, churning out more and more adverts that convince us that we really do need these products. We need them so that we can continue to conform to the projected norm of our society. We need this wrinkle cream. We need this jacket. We need this expensive car. And in our minds, we really do need these things. What’s the alternative? We need them to fit in. It’s weird to stand out. And if we can’t afford the new shiny things we need, we have to be seen to striving towards them, working and working and working to become just the same as everybody else. Because that’s what we want. That’s what we need.
Consumer society has made it normal to want more and more objects. Having lots of stuff, expensive stuff, is seen to be a measure of success. But it’s rare that a money-rich person has none of the worries that everybody else has. Do money and physical possessions really make us better people?
So I argue for the reclamation of the word need. Opening our eyes to the true meaning when we find ourselves saying that sentence, questioning ourselves and owning our feelings. It’s not bad to realise you want to purchase something. It’s even better to think about the true reason you feel like that. Do you really, really need it? Or has someone, something, some advert told you that you do? They’re powerful, those adverts, that underlying current of ‘normal’.
We don’t need more stuff once our basic human needs are met. We’re just conditioned to think we do. Let’s start to think about what we really, truly need, and focus on helping those who are in true need. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s not take away the meaning of the word to make ourselves feel better for buying more and more stuff.
Happiness isn’t made by consuming more products. I’m not saying we should all stop buying everything. We’re lucky to live in a society where we take our safety, food, hygiene, water for granted. In the UK we have the nhs, providing free healthcare for all. We don’t have to think that much about meeting our basic, true needs. Which leads to us mistaking ourselves. We think we want things, but we don’t. We want to feel good, we want to progress, we want to achieve. The way to growth isn’t through purchase.
If we can be comfortable, we should be. But ‘enough’ is confused with excess and we want more and more. By becoming less focused on ‘needing’ more things, we can start to look outside the adverts. We can start to know ourselves more. We can open our eyes to the real world outside this consumer bubble.
And we can make our own dreams, instead of relentlessly chasing a manufactured lifestyle, and a fake need.