We all have needs, both physical and emotional. And we all need to consistently fulfill those needs. Just as you never eat enough to last you forever, you never love enough to last you forever, or do something important enough to last you forever. Needs—whether it’s food, love, or meaning—must be replenished regularly.
And most of us live with a constant fear that the object that currently fulfills our needs will one day disappear. The person who loves us will one day cease to love us. The job that gives us security and food will one day stop giving us security and food. The creative spark that once made us happy will one day extinguish. The looks that brought us so much attention and praise will one day fade.
And so we cling to the object that fulfills that need. We try to make the lover love us. We try to make the job need us. We grasp onto the people and things that make us feel important and worthy and don’t let go. This makes us slaves to those people and those objects.
We cling to the people and objects that fulfill our needs. This makes us slaves to them.
When our only conduit for feeling appreciated is our looks or money, then we will become enslaved to our appearance and money, both of which are cruel masters.
If we feel like our lover is the one and only person on the planet who can make us feel this way, we cling to them and smother them with our demands and affection, shackling ourselves to them, because what is living if it’s without them?
Much of our lives is controlled by a sense of scarcity. We mistake the objects that provide for our needs for the needs themselves.
You don’t need your lover. You need to be loved. You don’t need your job. You need to feel secure. You don’t need to be beautiful, cool, or popular. You need to feel appreciated.
What you need is you.
In an infinite world, these needs can be met in an infinite number of ways.
All that is required is an ability and a confidence in one’s ability to get one’s own needs met.
That lover, he or she may leave you, whether by death or by betrayal. But there will, eventually, be another. That job, they may fire you. But there will eventually be another opportunity. Your status or appearance may fade, your popularity may wilt away, but there are always more ways in which you will feel important and appreciated.
Assuming one has the will, all needs can be replenished.
Studies show that people who lose their limbs or are paralyzed are not less happy or less mentally healthy than others on average.1 Conjoined twins almost unanimously refuse surgical operations to separate their bodies from one another because they complain that it would end the special relationship they’ve developed with each other.2
Our psyche has a profound way of conspiring to get our needs met with whatever resources it’s given.
That is, assuming you let it.
Someone recently emailed me and asked me what I would do if I woke up tomorrow with no money and no friends.
I don’t have a particular answer to that question. I don’t know what I’d do to get money that first day. I know it would be hard and lonely.
But I also know that I would eventually be fine. I would cry and complain and fret and struggle. But I would eventually be fine. Because on a long enough timeline, everything in our lives is eventually lost. Happiness is not preventing those losses. It’s learning to adapt to them.
It’s not the people and objects that fulfill the needs in my life that make me happy. I make me happy. And if those objects were all taken away, while I would mourn their loss, I would find new people and new objects, new activities and new passions, and build a new identity for myself, and live on.
- Dunn, D. S., Uswatte, G., & Elliott, T. R. (2009). Happiness, resilience, and positive growth following physical disability: Issues for understanding, research, and therapeutic intervention. In Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 2nd ed (pp. 651–664). Oxford University Press.↵
- US-based conjoined twins Carmen and Lupita Andrade are an example.↵