All human beings have some basic needs like food, water, clothing, shelter, love and security. If these needs are not fulfilled, it is difficult to enjoy happiness and satisfaction. The advancement in science and technology gave new dimensions to these needs and enhanced their productivity so that most of the people today are able to fulfill these needs to their happiness and satisfaction. If many people in the world are still not happy, it is because fulfillment of needs often leads to increase of greed, which is almost impossible to be satisfied. Mahatma Gandhi said wisely, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”
Greed means intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth or power. While needs are limited, there is no limit to greed. Unfortunately, most people can’t differentiate between their needs and greed. They keep increasing their list of needs according to their achievements without realising that their needs have been satisfied long back and the new items are embodiments of their greed. As a result, they are never satisfied with their lives despite earning good income or occupying high position in the society.
Let us try to understand the difference between need and greed. Our needs are relate to body, which has limits that can be fulfilled easily. For example, we have only limited capacity to eat food. The energy requirement of an average person can be fulfilled by consuming around 2400 calories per day. Our body is designed to give us signals for craving as well as fulfillment of our needs. When we eat less, we feel hunger as our body craves for food. However, our hunger vanishes no sooner than our food requirement is satisfied. Once your stomach is filled, you can’t consume any more food. Any excess consumption of food gives stomach ache or gets expelled in vomit; and habitual overeating tends to harm our bodies by making us obese and leading to several ailments. In the same way, we need only a few clothes to wear and one cot to sleep. These basic needs can be easily taken care of with limited income and resources.
However, most people are not happy with mere satisfaction of their needs. They keep increasing their greed in the garb of their needs and keep pushing themselves to seek more and more. Greed is related to craving of the mind and is based on imagination. Hence, it has no limits. For example, you need only one room to live in, yet you may crave for a mansion in a posh locality to satisfy your greed. In the same way, people crave for expensive cars, Armani suits and five star luxuries when their needs are satisfied. They want to be better than others and they wish to show off their possessions and accomplishments to create envy in others. Their cravings never stopand they keep wanting more and more. Little do these people realize that in order to fulfill their greed, they are making their own life miserably dissatisfied and at the same time, are robbing the poor of their share of basic needs? James Castleton warned such people, “The less fortunate will never have what they need until we who are more fortunate realize how little we require to be happy.”
A Swiss proverb says, “A greedy person and a pauper are practically one and the same”. In fact, a greedy person is even worse than a pauper because the latter gets satisfied with little, but a greedy person knows no saisfaction. Greedy people often follow illegal and immoral means to satisfy their wants. In order to fulfill their greed for wealth, they don’t mind engaging in corruption or crimes. To fulfill their have greed for power, they shun all principles and cheat others. Some people fail to control their greed for food and eat far more than what is needed by their body. As a result, they become obese and suffer many physical and mental ailments. The German social psychologist Erich Fromm warned us the pitfalls of greed, “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction”.
Greed or the inability to control one’s wants, cravings and urges can have other manifestations too. It is the greed of fame that makes a person be frivolous and pretentious and speak many lies to impress the people. Some people fail to control their sexual desires and in their quest to achieve sensual gratification, they commit numerous immoral deeds and lose respect and honour in the society. It is human greed that has caused over-exploitation of Earth’s natural reserves and played havoc with the environment and climate.
It is thus evident that an individual is destroyed physically, mentally and spiritually if he fails to control his greed. If a society fails to inculcate right values in its people, the entire breed is destroyed in their quest to satisfy their greed. People need to be educated about the evil effects of greed so that they can understand their need and take measures to contain their greed. We must listen to the counsel of the author Linda Berdoll “You cannot always have what you want. Sometimes you get what you need.”
The secret of happy life is to clearly identify our needs, which are indeed very limited. We must learn to be contented once our basic needs are satisfied and turn to seek joy in non-material things. For example, we must learn to cherish music, arts and literature instead of seeking wealth or power. We may render social service to help the poor and needy people instead of accumulating wealth. Instead of competing with others to feel superior, we must develop the spirit of cooperation to develop trust, love and compassion for fellow humans. Instead of seeking happiness outside, we must seek happiness within by simplifying our lives. The practice of yoga and meditation can help us discover ourselves and bring peace and tranquility in our lives.
It is in human nature to seek more and achieve more in life. It is due to this desire of knowing and accomplishing more that human beings have been able to discover, invent and create all that the world has today. To some extent, desire for more may motivate people to give their best. Desire becomes harmful only if it is unrestrained and unmanaged.
It is, therefore, necessary for us to identify our needs and seek its fulfillment. The lesser our needs, the easier it is to satisfy them. We must follow the philosophy of simple living high thinking. It is of no use to sacrifice our basic principles and human values to satisfy our greed. Jesus Christ warned us about the perils of chasing worldly pursuits, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
If we can overcome our greed, we can make our life beautiful, joyful and peaceful with whatever we have. A song from the Hindi movie ‘Khatta Meetha’ gives this message, “Thoda hai, thode ki zaroorat hai; zindagi, phir bhi yahan khoobsoorat hai” (We have little, we need little. The life here is still beautiful). Let us focus our mind inwards to find contentment and happiness in simple things of life and create a beautiful and sustainable world.
Source: “Mastering Essay & Answer Writing for UPSC Civil Services IAS/ IPS & State PSC Main Exam” by Dr Awdhesh Singh, available at
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