It has come to my attention that many people believe that they can go through life happily not getting what they want as long as they get what they need. This is an odd belief and it shows a lack of understanding about the want-need relationship. Allow me to elaborate.
Do you need to eat food and drink water? You’re immediate answer is probably yes, but the correct answer is no. There is nothing that you inherently need to do. You don’t even need to breathe air. That is, unless you want to survive. You don’t need to eat food or drink water unless you want to live. You don’t need to have shelter unless you want to survive the elements of nature. You don’t even need to wear clothes unless you want to live in society, nudist colonies notwithstanding.
The want-need relationship is imperative to understand because without knowing what you want, you will never know what you need. Do you want to be happy? Then you need to live a virtuous life directed at being a good person. Do you want to be healthy? Then you need to eat a plant based diet and exercise regularly. Do you want to be loved and feel desired in your intimate relationship? Then you need to be a virtuous person, find a virtuous partner, and work to make sure each of you is engaging the other to be better every day.
Your desires are the guideposts by which you orient your life. The desires you have express your maturity and values. A child may desire candy and cookies, but that is because he doesn’t know any better. An adult who desires candy and cookies has a very immature mentality and does not value health or long-term happiness.
Philosophy should help you determine what it is you want out of life and how best to get what you need in order that you may experience happiness as often as possible. Philosophy is not merely understanding the want-need relationship; it is determining what you as an individual need so that you may accomplish what you want.
As you grow and change as an adult, what you need will invariably change because you will develop a more profound understanding of what it is you want out of life and why. Experiencing happiness is what we all want, but what it is that makes us happy is different for everyone. It is also different for the same person over time. Future you will undoubtedly need different things than current you needs in order to experience happiness, and what current you accomplishes will impact what future you needs. Future you’s understanding of happiness will be tempered and encouraged by what current you experiences. Philosophy will put into perspective the importance of knowing what you want now and in the future, and it will help you prioritize so that you may experience happiness as completely as possible. (I talked about the relationship between current you and future you in a previous post, here.)
If your desires are the magnetic poles, then philosophy is your compass. Understanding the want-need relationship is the equivalent of building a state of the art GPS system, launching the satellites into space, developing a cool interactive and user friendly interface, turning it into an easy to use app, and making sweet, sweet moolah. Money isn’t everything, but metaphorical money used to represent happiness? Those are the dollar bills to stuff under your mattress, stack in your safe, and hopefully have enough of one day to do a Scrooge McDuck style high dive into and swim around in. That is a dream worth achieving.