Previous: Know yourself
To be happy, it's necessary to give yourself what you need. To be able to do that, you first have to know what it is you need. Needs are different from personal values. Personal values refer to areas of life, areas that interest you, areas you're passionate about. Things you need in order to feel good about yourself, to be yourself, are your needs. Those things can be both small and large. Possibly you need attention, love, flexible work hours, more time with your partner, a ham and cheese sandwich or a hot bath.
Sometimes it's perfectly clear what you need, and it's quite simple to give yourself what you need. When you are hungry, you make a sandwich or something else. It's possible you feel lonely because you don't have a partner. In that case you'll have to find yourself a new love. Sometimes it's not so clear what you need. You feel unfulfilled but you don't know why. You've got everything you ever dreamt about 20 years ago: a beautiful house, a family, enough money … and yet still you feel restless and unsatisfied.
The theory by psychologist Abraham Maslow, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, can help you discover what it is you need. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is often depicted as a pyramid consisting of five levels: the four lower levels are grouped together as deficiency needs associated with physiological needs, while the top level is termed growth needs associated with psychological needs. Deficiency needs must be met first. Once these are met, seeking to satisfy growth needs drives personal growth. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are satisfied.
The bottom of the pyramid consists of physiological basic needs, like shelter, food, and warmth. You don't feel anything when these needs are met, but if they aren't, you'll feel anxious. If you are hungry or thirsty or your body is chemically unbalanced, all of your energies turn toward remedying these deficiencies, and other needs remain inactive. When you are really hungry and terribly cold, you won't enjoy listening to music, or looking at art. Instead you first want to eat and put on some extra clothes. If some needs are not fulfilled, a human's physiological needs take the highest priority. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviours, and can cause people to feel sickness, pain, and discomfort.
Safety needs are one step higher up the pyramid. After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. They need to love and be loved. All humans have a need to be respected, to have self-esteem, self-respect, and to respect others (fourth layer).
They upper three layers are growth needs, enduring motivations or drivers of behaviour. These are cognitive needs, aesthetic needs and the need for self-actualisation. In Maslow's scheme, the final stage of psychological development comes when the individual feels assured that his physiological, security, affiliation and affection, self-respect, and recognition needs have been satisfied. As these become dormant, he becomes filled with a desire to realise all of his potential for being an effective, creative, mature human being.
Maslow's need hierarchy is set forth as a general proposition and does not imply that everyone's needs follow the same rigid pattern. However, his theory is highly informative. It can help you trace unfulfilled needs. If you encounter the same problems in love, over and over again, it's possible you haven't met the underlying need of safety. You may have an alarm system in check, but perhaps you don't feel safe emotionally. Perhaps you feel others can't be trusted, and you can't leave your guard down. This feeling of unsafety makes it hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship, and can lead to a fear of abandonment. In order to get what you need out of a relationship, you will first have to (re)find a feeling of safety.
The same is true for other layers of needs. If you notice it's impossible to be successful or get recognition in your field of expertise, perhaps you didn't fulfil some underlying need. Perhaps you don't have a sense of belonging, and you feel lonely. Perhaps you don't seem to be able to connect with colleagues at work, and don't use your full networking potential.
Recognise your needs
If you aren't in touch with yourself, it's possible you don't recognise your needs. It happens to everyone to some extent. When you e.g. are highly concentrated, you might not notice you need to go to the bathroom, or might ignore the feeling, until it's (almost) too late.
Some people ignore other needs, especially needs they think aren't socially acceptable. If you were told that crying is a sign of weakness, you possibly push away your tears, swallow your tears. If you were told sex is dirty, it's difficult to recognise you need sex.
Pushing aside your needs is unhealthy. It makes you feel frustrated and unfulfilled. Many needs can't be pushed aside for long either. They'll find a way out, and can manifest themselves in annoying ways. It's even possible you'll get depressed and develop all kinds of psychosomatic symptoms.
An example is the burn-out. People that are experiencing a burn-out have worked hard, but were at the same time ignoring other needs, the need for rest, relaxation, healthy food, … At a certain point body and mind can't continue to work until those needs are met. Unfortunately the situation by then has gotten real bad; people have crossed their boundaries so far, that it takes a very long time before they can feel healthy and happy again.
Determine and write down your needs
Determining your needs requires you to have an honest and accepting look at yourself, without judging your needs. What is it you really need? What's stopping you from satisfying your needs? Is there a voice in your head telling you it's wrong, or are you afraid of what other people might think? How can you give yourself what you really need? Write down the three most unfulfilled needs. What do you long for that you haven't got?
Not all needs are equally realistic and not all needs can be totally met. If you e.g. need comfort and luxury, but you don't make a lot of money, it's not a very realistic need. There's no use to dwell upon this, as it will only frustrate you. Do you have everything you've always wanted, the house, car, family, career … then perhaps it's important to learn to appreciate the small things in life.
Instead of constantly wishing for a better life, take up the challenge to enjoy what is, the here and now. How to do that will be explained later on.
Next: Become Assertive