Double Take: on Needs and Desires

A dialogue with ROWENA J RONSON

NS: For many of us, lockdown has been a time of frustration. But what is it that is being frustrated? To a degree it may be that we cannot easily get things that we need (e.g. an appointment with a hospital consultant), but isn’t it largely that we cannot fulfil our desires (e.g. a week in Venice)? Would we be happier sticking to meeting our needs rather than fulfilling our desires?

RJR: I think it is a great question, Nigel. And I would love a week in Venice – thank you very much! I know that we were both individually planning to do that this very month (or thereabouts). I think lockdown has brought up for people the difference between needs and desires. This subject makes me think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Do you know much about his work?

NS: Yes, I should have been in Lazio today, on my way to Rome, but a virus decreed otherwise. I had a tremendous desire to go travel through Italy, but I don’t think I can get away with calling it a need. I don’t know very much about Maslow, apart from the pyramidical diagram of his Hierarchy of Needs. Much of what this shows seems to be common sense, i.e. there are (at the bottom of the pyramid) the basic human needs that it is difficult to find fault with, such as food, water, shelter, warmth. But towards the top, I wonder if needs get mixed up with desires when he seems to include intimate relationships and – an even greyer area – prestige. Perhaps this illustrates the fact that we can all differentiate between needs and desires – but only up to a point (where things may get blurred).

RJR: That makes sense to me. So the closer people were to ‘survival’ when the pandemic began, the more they have only been able to meet their immediate and very basic needs. This time is not a leveller, but it is an eye-opener. 

NS: Something that our eyes may be opened to is that our real needs are seriously essential – but few in number; and that our desires are not seriously essential – but countless. Before now, we were perhaps blind to the great dangers inherent in this approach to life.

RJR: So what do you think we can learn about the difference between our needs and our desires at this time?

NS: I think our real needs have been clarified at this time – and they are the basic ones identified by Maslow. And I think we may start to realise that our desires (the things we want or crave but don’t actually need) are a symptom of emptinesses in our lives (which we continually try to fill up).

RJR: I think that is absolutely right. What do our readers think? 

Rowena J Ronson (pictured above) is a practitioner offering an holistic integration of functional medicine, homeopathy and transformational coaching and

Under the banner of “Double Take”, Rowena and Nigel have been jointly writing columns and dialogues for health journals and websites for the past 15 years.

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at

You may also like...