What Does a Person Need?

Chris HolcombMy name is Chris Holcomb, and I am an intern this summer with Mustard Seed Associates from Elkhart, IN. I will be a senior this year at Purdue University majoring in Economics with a concentration in Statistics and minors in Sociology and Environmental Politics and Policy. This post is the first in a series I’ve been doing on my experiments with simplicity and human needs. We will be posting many here, and you can also follow along on my blog,The Llama and the Cow

One of the questions that I’ve been grappling with over the last several years is this: what do people need? No, I’m not trying to think of a product to sell, or an innovation to change the world; I’m thinking in much more basic terms than those. What does a person need to survive, and what do they need to live a happy, fulfilling life? I know that there will always be things that we want, and I know that there are a few basic human needs; but where can the dividing line be drawn between the two? How many of the things that we think of as “needs” are actually more like wants, transformed into “needs” by the shaping effects of our cultures and social classes?

It seems that we often look to the simplest solution, but that it is not always the best one.

Furthermore, are we addressing our true needs in the right ways? For example, it is true that watching movies/TV fulfills a human need: the need for relaxation, or laughter, or creative release. It may be different depending on the situation. But maybe there are more effective ways to fulfill those needs; maybe the habits that we prop up as necessary are indicators of a deeper need that has not been fulfilled. It seems that we often look to the simplest solution, but that it is not always the best one.

So, those are just a few of my questions and concerns. Addressing them, however, is another matter. It must be a process, a gradual learning experience that I will probably never complete. And before I begin this process, I must admit that my conclusions will inevitably be biased. I am just one person, incredibly affected and skewed by my own cultural experiences. Further, it might be questioned whether one can even make conclusions about basic human needs, as every person is wired differently. Nonetheless, I would like to try, to at least explore the subject.

To that end, I have decided to embark on several experiments. I’ve completed the first two of these, and have some ideas in mind for a few others. In the posts that follow, I’ll give more detailed information on what those have entailed, but for now, a brief overview:

  • Experiment One: For a school project this past semester (for a Global Environmental Politics course), I counted how many possessions I used in one day, a Saturday, and then tried to limit how many I used the next day.
  • Experiment Two: For four days several weeks ago, I ate on just two dollars a day.

So far, these experiments have not been very trying or stringent; I haven’t begun to consider all factors in either case. That is not to say that I haven’t been taking them seriously. I’m making a concerted effort to push the bounds of the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to, and asking myself difficult questions about what my needs really are. As I learn, I may decide to push further, making tweaks and adding more factors. Above all, this is a learning process; I expect failures and mistakes. I also want it to be fun. I’m not taking myself too seriously; I don’t expect everyone to do the things I do or even agree with my conclusions. I think of these experiments as adventures: learning experiences, but also opportunities to try new things and challenge myself. So, feel free to follow along, give me feedback or suggestions, or even join in if you want!