The Precarious Balance between Wants, Needs

May 18 , 2019
By Tsion Fisseha

Growing up, I felt shackled by rules set for me way before I had the capability of making personal choices. I was always agitated by the things I was supposed to do as opposed to what my desires were.

Consequently, it was always a blood bath between my parents and I. We fought on what I wore, ate or even how I preferred to care for my hair. My mother kept making me put butter on my hair - despite my protestations - promising that I would love the end product. These battles recur during a person’s lifetime.

We fought, because I knew what I wanted, and they knew what I needed.

Many decisions are made in life. Usually, it is a sacrifice. Perhaps we want to study something that is more near and dear to our heart but often settle for a college major that promises a career that generates a stable source of income. We cannot get everything - this is a cosmic rule.

In a study done to test children’s capability in differentiating wants and needs, a series of photos were flashed in front of a television screen. The pictures ranged from food to water to shelter to shiny objects. The results showed that at a very young age, it was very difficult for the children to recognise the difference between what they needed and merely wanted.

If people are not careful, their children will come down with “affluenza,” a disease that causes them to confuse wants and needs, according to Michelle Singletary, author and award-winning columnist for The Washington Post.

We need to teach our children what my grandmother taught me - thinking twice about spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not like anyway.

Despite the similarity of these words they completely adhere to two completely different narratives. While want recognises the desire to possess or do something, need leans toward what is required and more essential than what is desired. These terms are used interchangeably, because little to no effort is put into understanding their difference and the outcomes they have in one’s life.

This is why it is crucial to prioritise, recognise, avoid and pursue something or someone.

Economics substantially attempts to allocate scarce resources and by doing so needs a clear cut line of what one wants and what one needs. In this sense, it is clear that wants and needs profoundly affect the financial balance of the consumer.

As a child, I cried constantly, because I was told to go to sleep early even though I wanted to stay up late. I wanted to run around and play all day instead of sitting down to eat and watch movies when I needed to study. But as one grows up and grows old, one needs to analyse the difference between what is needed for survival and what makes one happy.

This is not to say that desire or wants are insignificant since these things are the ones that ultimately make the world go round by creating opportunities to acquire wealth and riches.

Wants and desires shape one’s hopes and dreams. These hopes and aspirations make it possible for innovation and creativity. Ultimately, finding the balance between these two concepts could result in a remarkable revolution in our lives.

But balance comes with distinction, so one must be aware of it before coming to a conclusion and deciding on what measures should be taken.

PUBLISHED ON May 18,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 994]

Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at

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