If there is something certain communities and studies / observations can teach us, it is that happiness (and to an extent, life satisfaction) isn’t as complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. What we want, even if this is not expressed consciously, can be found in our motivations, fantasies and the people we are with – we yearn to be needed, to feel like we matter a lot to someone. And if we should at any point feel that our existence is negligible, like a candle that can be easily put out and forgotten, it begins to eat away at us until we are consumed by self-loathing and misery.
Being needed gives us a sense of self-importance, that what we do, and how our lives unfold matter to someone. It means we are not just a nameless face among a sea of faces, not another human indistinguishable from other bodies, that we aren’t just another cog and gear to be casually replaced and discarded at whim. Knowing we are somewhat and somehow different, that we possess a signature unique only to us, is the primary motivation behind most, if not everything we do. And for that, it feels great when others cannot function well (or at all) without our presence. It’s selfish, egoistical but secretly desired.
Shakespeare was on to something when he wrote Romeo & Juliet. Though the play remains a wonderful classic in its own right, and while some of its themes and lines are somewhat cringe-worthy in a modern interpretation, the underlying fantasy of two lovers who cannot live without the other comes surprisingly close to explaining what we really want (as well as romantic love): the happiness and reassurance of having someone in our life who is vitally dependent on our existence so much so that in return, we are also desperately in want of them. While love is the strongest expression of needing and being needed, milder variations can be found as the underlying basis of our many friendships and communities.
This also explains how we find meaning and emotional attachment in careers. To be stuck in a job doing the same paperwork over and over without any acknowledgement is to quickly fall into lapses of repetition. However, knowing that our superiors depend on us for something purposeful, or that the company we are employed at cannot easily let us go because a replacement is difficult to come about gives us a strong (maybe sadistic) measure of pride. No one can do what I do. My contributions matter. These are what we tell ourselves in secret, and take quiet delight at being better and more. It also serves as an impetus to go beyond, and most companies (Apple, Google etc) nowadays understand that so they go the extra mile to make their employees feel like they matter.
But more importantly, being greatly needed by someone or something simply makes us feel valuable, the likes of which is difficult to accurately express in words. Perhaps if we could borrow from The Velveteen Rabbit and The Little Prince, the more profound description would be that we feel real and significant. If there is one thing worse than being neglected, it’s knowing that we are not needed.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) why being needed is all that matters?