Needs vs. Wants

What's the Difference?

Needs are essential for survival, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. They are necessary for maintaining a basic standard of living and ensuring our well-being. Wants, on the other hand, are things that we desire but are not essential for our survival. They are often driven by personal preferences, societal influences, and individual desires for comfort or luxury. While needs are necessary for our existence, wants are more about enhancing our quality of life and fulfilling our desires and aspirations. It is important to prioritize our needs over our wants to ensure that we are able to meet our basic requirements before indulging in luxuries.


EssentialRequired for survivalNot necessary for survival
PriorityHigher priorityLower priority
BasicBasic necessitiesExtras or luxuries
UniversalUniversal for all humansVaries among individuals
StableRemains constantCan change over time

Further Detail


Needs and wants are two fundamental concepts in economics and psychology that help us understand human behavior and decision-making. Needs are essential for survival and well-being, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing. Wants, on the other hand, are desires that are not necessary for survival but can enhance our quality of life, such as luxury items, entertainment, and travel.


Needs are universal and consistent across all individuals, regardless of their culture, background, or personal preferences. For example, everyone needs food to survive, regardless of whether they prefer pizza or sushi. Wants, on the other hand, are subjective and vary from person to person. What one person wants, another may not care about at all.


Needs are typically prioritized over wants because they are essential for survival and well-being. When faced with limited resources, such as time or money, people tend to prioritize meeting their needs before fulfilling their wants. For example, someone who is hungry will prioritize buying food over buying a new video game. However, once needs are met, people can focus on fulfilling their wants.


Needs are finite and have a clear endpoint when they are fulfilled. For example, once you have eaten a meal, your need for food is satisfied until the next mealtime. Wants, on the other hand, are often insatiable and can lead to a never-ending cycle of desire and consumption. For example, buying a new phone may satisfy your want for the latest technology temporarily, but soon you may want the next model.

Impact on Behavior

Needs have a more immediate and direct impact on behavior because they are essential for survival. When a person's needs are not met, they may experience physical discomfort, stress, or even health problems. This can lead to urgent and decisive actions to fulfill those needs. Wants, on the other hand, have a more indirect and delayed impact on behavior. Not fulfilling a want may lead to disappointment or dissatisfaction, but it is unlikely to have immediate negative consequences.

Long-Term Satisfaction

Fulfilling needs is essential for long-term satisfaction and well-being. When a person's basic needs are met, they are more likely to feel secure, content, and happy. However, focusing solely on fulfilling wants without addressing needs can lead to temporary pleasure but long-term dissatisfaction. It is important to strike a balance between meeting needs and fulfilling wants to achieve overall happiness and fulfillment.

Relationship to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that categorizes human needs into five levels, ranging from basic physiological needs to self-actualization. Needs align closely with the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy, such as physiological and safety needs, which are essential for survival. Wants, on the other hand, are more closely related to the higher levels of the hierarchy, such as love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, which focus on personal growth and fulfillment.


Needs and wants are essential concepts that shape our behavior, decision-making, and overall well-being. While needs are essential for survival and well-being, wants can enhance our quality of life and bring us joy and satisfaction. It is important to prioritize meeting our needs before fulfilling our wants and to strike a balance between the two to achieve long-term happiness and fulfillment.

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