• Colleen Lennon, LCSW

What is the definition of Need VS Want?

The dictionary defines the words need, should, and want as follows:


Need: to require because it is essential or very important; expressing necessity or obligation.


Should: used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.


Want: to have a desire to possess something or wish for; to lack or be short of something desirable.


If you look at those three definitions, you will see that in the definitions the words “need” and “should,” there is the commonality of the word “obligation.” On the other hand, the definition of the word “want” contains “desire” or “wish.” Yet when people talk about the things they want in their lives, something they would like to change about themselves, or how they would like to act or be, they use the terms “need” and “should.” “I need to be a better person.” “I should workout more.” “I need to try harder at work.” “I should be married by now.” “I need to save more money.” The use of “need” and “want” automatically makes it an obligation, a requirement, something that must be completed. Therefore, if it is not done, it is often viewed as a defect in the person or a failure, which can be very defeating and unmotivating. Having an idea in your mind of how you “need” to or “should” be or what you “need” or “should” do in your life usually sets some pretty unrealistic expectations. Using the words “need” or “should” puts a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress on the situation or the person.





Just by changing one word, from “need” or “should” to “want,” you instantly remove that pressure and stress of having to do or be something. It becomes a desire and a wish, rather than a requirement or obligation. “I want to be a better person.” “I want to workout more.” “I want to try harder at work.” “I want to be married.” “I want to save more money.” With this way of phrasing it, if it isn’t done or completed it can be viewed not as a failure, but rather more that maybe you didn’t really want it all that much or it wasn’t really a priority to you. If you don’t do something you say you want to, maybe it is more a matter of trying to figure out what you truly want for yourself and your life as opposed to what you think you should want based on others’ perceptions or societal norms. This can actually give you a lot of insight into what you find important in your life and what your true wants are. If you aren’t willing to put the work into doing or becoming something, you must not really want it, right?


Believe me, I know there are things in life we technically “need” or “should” do, like file our taxes, go to work, do laundry, etc., because if we don’t the consequences or implications of not doing them might be negative. But even those seemingly “required” tasks can become slightly more enjoyable if we phrase them as wants. By using the word “want” in these situations, we take the ownership of the task and we are doing it because we decided it is something we want to do, not something someone else is telling us to do. It may seem like an insignificant thing, to use the word “want” instead of “need” or “should,” but it really can make a huge impact on perception and motivation.


Next time you catch yourself using the words “need” or “should” try reframing it with the work “want.”


You might be surprised not only by the impact on your mood and motivation to complete something, but also in the insight you gain into your true wants in life and for yourself.




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