5 Things You Need to Be Truly Happy
We all have needs that must be met in order to feel truly happy and at peace. There is a series of very basic and essential physical needs that we all have, such as food and shelter, but beyond those there are also several emotional needs that we must meet as well.
In our society, when most people complain about not feeling happy, it isn’t because their physical needs have not been met. Those of us who are unfortunate enough to be lacking the basic physical essentials of food, housing, access to healthcare, etc. know very well what we don’t have and what we need to get access to. But there is a growing number of people in our modern society who continue to feel discontent in spite of having all the physical necessities in place. Many of these individuals don’t understand what they are lacking, and therefore don’t know where to seek and find what they need.
I have been in that latter category. Although I have been blessed in my life to have never experienced hunger, homelessness, or fear for my physical health and security, I have gone through stages where I still felt a sense of emptiness and a lack of happiness in my life. During those stages, I was at a loss as to why I was feeling that way. I looked around me and saw my blessings; I realized that many had much less in terms of material and physical security than I did. Yet I still felt that I had needs that were not being met. At first, I was critical of my lack of gratitude. But upon reading and hearing about others who found themselves in similar situations, I started to do some research. Through that research I discovered that as humans we have needs that go way beyond the physical. We also have emotional and psychological needs that we must meet in order to truly feel fulfilled and happy.
Below is a list of five emotional needs that I have identified as being essential in my own life. These are all needs that at some time or another I have failed to satisfy to a point where it affected my psychological well-being and overall happiness. By identifying and pinpointing these needs I have become able to determine when and if I am ever failing to satisfy any of them, thereby reducing those inevitable periods that we all experience when we feel simply unfulfilled and unhappy in our lives.
1. The Need for Friendship and Intimacy
As the saying goes, no man is an island. While we all have the need for privacy, we also have the need for intimacy. In my opinion, intimacy trumps privacy every time. It isn’t too difficult to find some time for ourselves on a somewhat regular basis, but unless we have identified at least one individual in our lives with whom we feel completely comfortable and open, the need for intimacy can be hard to meet.
There are many of us who have large and broad social circles. In the age of social media, shallow relationships are easy to forge. But this is definitely one area where quantity does not make up for quality. I have been fortunate enough to have had a handful of very close friendships in my life. The total number could be counted on one hand. But those friendships were more than enough to sustain me and meet my needs.
How can you meet this need? Make an effort to reach out to your loved ones on a regular basis. Ideally try to make time at least once a week to have an in depth discussion where you each have an opportunity to speak and be heard. Avoid discussing problems; instead focus on your hopes, dreams and aspirations. Talk about what “makes you tick” and what gives you the most pleasure in life. During these times, remember that listening is just as important as speaking. In order to have true intimacy, both parties must benefit emotionally from these conversations.
2. The Need for Control Over Our Lives
Having a sense of control in our lives goes back to our basic physical need for security. Some people need to feel more control than others. There are many people who believe that they are perfectly happy when they have someone else take care of everything for them, and that they don’t need to be in control of anything. That is all fine and good until something unexpected happens and that person is gone. Then they believe that because they have had no control over their fate all along, they now find themselves lost and distraught.
Yet what these people don’t realize, is that there was something that they did have control over the entire time. They had control over their decision to give in completely to someone else’s decisions. That was their original choice. Every time you make a choice, you are deciding what to do with the control you have over your own life. That is why it is so important to always choose wisely.
Having control over all aspects of our lives is obviously impossible. There will always be situations that are completely out of our hands. Things like car accidents, illnesses, job loss, and home repairs happen to all of us. Therefore it is essential that we feel that we can remain in control of some aspects (even if it is only a single aspect) of our lives.
How can you meet this need? Understand that you have a lot more control than you think you do. Every time you make a decision you are using your ability to control the factors in your life. Even if something tragic happens unexpectedly, you still have the ability to choose how you are going to react and how you are going to take care of it. Giving in to a feeling of helplessness is the worst thing that you can do in such a situation. There is always something that you can do, even if it is just to keep your wits about you. Life, circumstances and other people can take almost everything away from you, except one thing: your ability to choose how to respond to your situation.
3. The Need to Be Part of Something Larger Than Ourselves
Humans are social beings. Not only do we need to have intimate relationships with others, we also have a need to belong to a larger community. It helps us to feel useful, needed, validated, and valuable. Having one or two very close friends serves a purpose, but so does belonging and contributing to a wider circle of individuals. Participating as a member of a group has the added benefit of helping to take our focus off ourselves. It allows us to develop emotionally by being of service to others and therefore learning how to be more selfless.
I have always enjoyed completing an achievement or reaching a goal when done as part of group more than when done individually. Perhaps it stems from some leftover shyness from my youth and not wanting to be in the limelight. But whether it was performing as a member of a choir in an opera when I was in high school, or doing research with a lab partner in a biochemistry class in college, having other people who relied on me and with whom I could share the experience made it so much more rewarding. As an adult, the jobs that I have found to be the least satisfying have been those where I worked the most independently. Over a year ago, I started working from home full time. I quickly missed the collaborative process from when I had been working in an office. Since I could no longer get that satisfaction from my job, I sought out other places where I could find it. I found that I could give my professional advice and services to friends who could use it. They appreciated the help and I appreciated collaborating with them.
How can you meet this need? Find a group of people in your community who have similar interests to yours. Choose an organization that could benefit from your skills and talents. It could be a faith-based group, a political organization, a book club, or just a bunch of guys at the park who like to play basketball on Saturday afternoons.
4. The Need for Challenge and Creativity
We have all seen this with children. The more intelligent they are, the more easily they will get bored. They are constantly asking questions, exploring, wanting to learn more about the world around them. This is a need that doesn’t go away just because we grow up. It might be a need that we ignore, due to the time restraints that are created by our daily lives and obligations. But it will still be there, and if it remains unmet you will eventually see the effects.
Learning something is not just great for our brains, it also feeds our self-esteem. It makes us feel empowered and capable; it gives us a sense of growth, progress and achievement. If we never challenge ourselves to improve by learning a new craft or developing our existing skills, we can quickly begin to feel unimportant, pointless, or maybe even worthless. It will quickly lead to a depressive downward spiral.
Learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom or the workplace. One of my most rewarding and satisfying hobbies has become baking. I find it to be challenging in several ways, and that there is always a new method to learn, or an existing technique that can be improved. While there is a lot of logic and rules to baking, there is also plenty of room for creativity. I have found that the more I learn about how different ingredients will behave and complement each other, that the more room I have for successful experimentation. And then there is the added pleasure and happiness that comes from sharing my final products with my loved ones.
How can you meet this need? Make it a priority to find time in your week to dedicate to your personal growth. If you can incorporate it into your current work schedule, then all the better. But don’t limit yourself to only developing or improving work-related skills. You should also find a hobby that interests you. Maybe there is something that you used to do that gave you great joy before you became too busy and dropped it by the wayside. Or maybe there is something that you have always wanted to try but never made time for it. Whatever it is, find an activity that will inspire and challenge you, which you can perform on a regular basis.
5. The Need for Purpose and Meaning
An extension of both the need to be part of something larger than ourselves and the need to be challenged is the need to have purpose and meaning in our lives. I didn’t even realize how this need had been met for me for over 20 years until one day when my son graduated from college and set off on his own. Up until that day, I had not been aware of how much the meaning in my life was tied to my role as his parent. Once I felt that role was diminished, my sense of purpose was diminished right along with it.
At first I didn’t know why I felt so lost, unhappy, and meaningless everyday. The truth was that my daily life had hardly changed at all. My son had moved out of state to go to college so for the previous four years I had only seen him during holidays and for a few weeks each summer. The change had been purely psychological. I now felt no longer needed. He was doing just fine on his own, which was of course exactly what I wanted for him. He wasn’t calling me for help, advice, or even money. And eventually I found out that was where it had all changed. I was no longer his safety net, and my identity had been tied to that role for the last two decades of my life. So I set out to find a new source of purpose and meaning in order to fulfill my emotional need and find happiness again.
How can you meet this need? Start out by doing some personal soul searching. Ask yourself, at what times in your life were you the happiest? What were you doing at those times? What activities, people and topics are you most passionate about; which give you the most fulfillment and satisfaction? Once you are able to answer these questions, you will be able to identify where your sense of purpose and meaning lie, and how you can best tap into them.
These are the five emotional needs that I have found to be essential in finding and maintaining my own happiness. It is possible that you may have additional ones that you can add to this list, such as a need for setting and achieving goals, or a need for status within your community. The important thing is to realize that these needs are real, and that you must identify and satisfy them before you will be able to achieve sustained happiness in your own life.