Needs and Feelings
Why are feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well being so important to good health? Feelings of
pleasure and well being originate in the ancient, nonverbal parts of the brain. This part of the brain
also interacts with body systems that control blood pressure and immune responses. It is no secret
that the most elementary neurological wiring in our brains are connected to the monitoring of basic
biological system requirements; meaning when our basic needs are met, our body's systems work
much more efficiently. Feelings are really a fantastic natural life serving motivational alarm system
that give us instant readouts about our needs and they mobilize us to move to meet them. For
example, if our need for food is not being met, and we don't have a sensation or feeling about this
we will in all likelihood starve. For those trained to read the symptoms of the body, these unmet
needs can also be read and diagnosed but for the one who is experiencing disease its hard to tell
what is really at the root of the problem. Holistic medicine can apply mind/body wisdom and see
that the lowered immune system response or high blood pressure is a mirror of some lack of inner
well being that stems from basic need deprivation. Regular doctors see nothing but a broken
The whole basis of our existence on earth is based on meeting our needs, at least our basic ones;
for if some of them do not get met, we can expect deep difficulties. This is most obvious for air and
water. Second to these basic biologically needs are our requirements for basic nutrition, sleep,
shelter, touch, understanding and love. Biologically we are built and programmed for survival but
when we start moving up the hierarchy of needs that humans have, we see that getting them
fulfilled is not so much a matter of survival itself but in pleasant survival. Though we might
physical survive, as many people do in misery, happiness and feelings of well being are dependent
on the satisfaction of some of our higher needs.
When our needs are frustrated it provokes a rich and varied battery of emotions ranging from
fear, confusion, anguish, shame, bewilderment, irritation, pessimism, unease, gloom,
disappointment, depressed, disturbed, unhappy, weary, worried, upset, resentful, angry, hurt,
hostile, mournful, lonely, dull, dismayed, worried, mean, mournful, and many other feelings which
few people have the emotional language to put their fingers on.
When we move toward satisfying our basic and real needs we open ourselves to a range of good
feelings that include happiness and many other feelings like feeling alive, free, adventurous,
hopeful, excited, confidence, appreciation, thankful, love, thrilled, trusting, good humored, aroused
and even ecstatic and blissful. So happiness does have some deep connection to whether our needs
are being met or not. Happiness is not just a decision or choice unless we can say that we are
choosing to meet our needs.
Good Feelings Difficult Feelings
The best way to get our basic needs met is to pay attention to them of course but unfortunately
most people have not been taught to think in terms of their own needs. Marshal Rosenberg of NVC
(Nonviolent Communication) said, “We are accustomed to thinking about what’s wrong with other
people when our needs aren’t fulfilled. Thus, if we want coats to be hung up in the closet, we may
characterize our children as lazy for leaving them on the couch. Or we may interpret our co-
workers as being irresponsible when they don’t go about their tasks as we would prefer them to
do.” Marshal is inferring that we have short-circuited our basic internal requirement system that
monitors our internal needs and replaced it with external blaming and judging of others who do not
cooperate with us to satisfy our needs.
Marshal goes on to say, “Judgments, criticisms, diagnosis, and interpretations of others are all
alienated expressions of our needs. If someone says, “You never understand me,” they are really
telling us that their need to be understood is not being fulfilled. If a wife says, “You’ve been
working late every night this week; you love your work more than you love me,” she is saying that
her need for intimacy is not being met.” What is critical in meeting needs is awareness of the
needs and the feelings and emotions generated by these needs. Most minds separate from the
intelligent system the links needs with feelings. Addictive behavior and substance abuse has much
to do with the process of need replacement.
NVC is a communication system that focuses very much on paying attention to the relationship
between our feelings and our needs. It is a communication style and technology that helps people
focus on listening and communicating on the level of needs and inner vulnerabilities. A great part
of the philosophy of NVC revolves around the fact that many of our feelings and emotional
reactions have to do with our particular needs we have and whether they are or are not being met.
Marshal thus says, “We see that our feelings result from how we choose to receive what others say
and do, as well as our particular needs and expectations in that moment.”
When we talk about needs the question arises “what do we really need to be happy, content and
safe.” There are a whole range of human needs that when frustrated turn us away from the buoyant
energies of happiness and toward depression. As we climb up the ladder or hierarchy of needs it
can become confusing what are actually needs and what are desires and wants. The key question is
do we really need what we want or do we want what we really need? What we need and what
we want are not always the same. Spiritual work has a lot to do with detachment from what we
want. It teaches the attitude to not expect what we want; only what we truly need.
Its natural to desire what we want and the more we want the more we end up desiring and
feeling needy for what we desire. There are many legitimate needs we have for closeness, affection,
appreciation, community, love, trust, understanding and warmth that we often have to live without
and this is most difficult, though most people do find coping strategies to alleviate the pain of not
satisfying these core heart needs. If we loose touch with these needs ‘completely’ though we end
up out of touch with our real self that has these real needs.
Part of life and the pursuit of happiness are wrapped up with identifying with our needs and our
feelings about those needs. Positive feelings can reinforce our movement towards those needs and
negative emotions can alert us to the fact that needs are not being met. The trick though is to learn
to differentiate between the pain of ego wants and the true desires of the heart. In a world that
gravitates habitually to the mind and separate self this is not an easy thing to do.
We all have our inner dialogues that are a mixture between thoughts and emotions and our
ability to boil this all down to simple feelings and needs can help us a lot. Paying attention to our
basic or most important needs can draw us closer to the heart. It can help us pay attention to it like
we would to a baby whose needs are more obvious. Paying attention to our needs helps us to
understand our feelings better and helps us to understand what is happening in our
interactions with others. Few people really pay much direct attention to their needs and yet we
can go overboard and become a need fanatic by paying too much attention to what we think or feel
we need. We can over generate feelings and reactions because we fear too much that our
needs will not be met.
Barry Kaufman offers some thoughts about this when he says, “If I don't get what I say I need
(love, money, security), I say I will be unhappy. It's my self-fulfilling prophecy.” He went on to say
“On some occasions, my needing actually led to extinguishing what I wanted.” When we get too
needy with our needs, meaning push them too much in other people’s faces, instead of drawing
them closer to us, we risk pushing them away. When needs get turned into demands those needs
start to take on life alienating qualities that practically guarantee that the needs will never get met.
Barry continues with “The pressure of needing created a short circuit and the result was immobility.
By contrast, when I began to consider what I wanted as "wants" and not "needs," then I moved
toward goals without having my life or happiness dependent on them."
Introductory Materials Sexuality/The Heart of Sex
World Psychology on Basic Psychology Relationships/The Marriage of Souls
Communication & Listening Psychology Biogenic Medicine
Economics Emotional Intelligence/HeartHealth
Terrorism The Heart is the Vulnerability of Being
New Paradigms in Education Religion & Spirituality
Global Environment Emergency Current Events/The Virtual Voice