This is part of my series on Mental Models to Understand Yourself
One of the basic needs of every human being is the need to be loved, to have our wishes and feelings taken seriously, to be validated as people who matter.
— Harold S. Kushner
You are a human being. And like everyone around you, you have a variety of basic needs. Clean air and water. Nutritious food, quality shelter, and safety. Connection with other people and belonging. These ones are obvious.
Less obvious needs include understanding, acceptance, and appreciation. Attention, validation, and to be needed. Autonomy and freedom. Self-expression and self-actualization. Though we don’t usually talk about these needs, they’re just as important as clean air and water.
If you’re like everyone else, I know, some of your needs are currently unmet. Unmet needs are like a fog that envelops your life in dreariness and gloom. They cast a haze of despair over the brightest day. The only way out the fog is to meet your unmet needs.
For example, growing up, I felt alone. I had one good friend in elementary school. Many acquaintances, but only one good friend. I was surrounded by adults and often had no one to play with. No one my age to listen to me.
Some lonely kids create imaginary friends. Not me: I constructed an imaginary city, so small that it fit on the tip of my finger. I was its mayor, and its inhabitants were modeled after my favorite tv show, The Smurfs. They constantly caused problems for each other, and I settled their disputes. It was all fiction, but it made me feel less alone.
Years later, in college, I didn’t get enough sleep, exercise, or proper nutrition. As a result, I lacked clarity, and my studies suffered. I contracted pneumonia during the winter of my junior year. At that time, I made a strategic decision to fail some classes and focus my limited energy on the classes I wanted to pass. Two years later, graduation was a mixture of relief and exhaustion. When someone asked me about graduate school, I shook my head and laughed.
Since then, I realized that I have some basic needs. When they’re unmet, life is miserable. It’s a strange thing — everything else in life can go splendidly — but if one need is unmet, like the need for sleep, each day is bleak. Each day feels insufferable.
Nowadays, I make my needs a priority. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, eat fruits and vegetables, exercise, and socialize. I say, No, to people and schedule time to make progress on long-term goals. And I avoid things that get in the way of meeting my needs (I’m looking at you, video games!).
I want you to know that, like me, you have some basic needs. A bunch of them are unmet. Perhaps it’s the need for connection or good health. Or the need to find your purpose in life. Whatever they are, unmet needs make life hard. Perhaps even unbearable.
Getting your needs met might be complicated and require tremendous effort. It may take weeks or months or years. But it’s worth it. Because you are worth it. Because you matter.
Too many good people plod through life, under the crushing weight of malaise and discontent. And they’re unaware of what the core problem, much less what to do about them. Their unmet needs block out the sunshine.
Don’t be like them. Recognize that you have unmet needs. Catalog them. And one by one, find ways to meet them. Slowly but surely, life’s dreariness will be swept away.