Wants vs Needs – Understanding Ourselves Better

Wants and needs are two words whose meaning we clearly understand and also conveniently interchanged depending on how motivated we are to get something. Digging deeper into the interplay between these two words helps us to understand ourselves better.

Before we proceed, here is the definition of these two key words:

Want — have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.

Need — require (something) because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

The distinction between the two centers on one quality — ‘essential’. How we define ‘essential’ is subjective!

There are various frameworks to help us prioritise or helps distinguish, in descending order, the ‘essential’ ’need from ‘desirable’ wants. Two popular ones are MoSCoW and the 50/30/20 budgeting rule.

The one that I really like is the 2×2 grid.

Wants vs Needs — prioritization matrix

Low Want / Low Need
We start at the bottom left which I term the “worst option”. Whatever you put here can be safely ignored. We tend to waste a lot of time unconsciously pursuing things we don’t really want and definitely do not need. Once you put something here, the action is to completely AVOID!

Low Want / High Need
The next two are the mirror images of each other. This one is items we don’t really want but we definitely need. We may discard an option superficially not knowing its true worth. Or indeed we may arbitrarily put off an option, despite it being essential. A typical example is a task that is boring or laborious in itself, yet is a pre-requisite for an important higher goal e.g. procrastination for going to the gym or the push to invest in mutual funds or the stock market. Once something is identified in this quadrant, the key is to remind ourselves of the higher goal at hand and prioritize accordingly.

High Want / Low Need
We usually find ourselves in this quadrant a lot. Here will lie items that we really want but not need, items that are attractive and yet superfluous. We catch ourselves asking “do I really need this?”. Once something is identified in this quadrant, we need to decipher what we really value and what we don’t.

High Want / High Need
This is the ideal scenario quadrant. Our wants and needs match up, they are aligned. At times, we may tend to disguise our wants as needs to trick ourselves into justifying items here. Items that you put here really need a lot of thought to truly assess if our wants are truly our needs.


Once you become better at differentiating between wants and needs, you’ll probably see that you’ve been able to fulfill more of your desires over the years than you realized. At the end of the day, we need to be grateful for what we have and appreciate all that we have, even the small pleasures and treasures of life.


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