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Alan White

Alan White

This week I have been asked to give a class on Developing Mental Well-being in young people, as part of the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival. Preparing for this, I had to look at the question of how to do this in a different way, as I will be talking to adults about how to help young people. I found as I worked that I kept coming back to the idea of our basic needs, and how taking care of these are intrinsically linked to not only our well-being but our sense of self-esteem.

To maintain our mental well-being I believe it is vital to first know ourselves. To do this we need to be aware of our needs. When I am working with students, I always spend a lot of time discussing our basic needs and how neglecting these needs can have a negative impact on our overall sense of well-being.

According to Dr William Glasser we have five basic needs:

  • Love and belonging- this need is met by getting along with others and having fulfilling relationships.
  • Power- achieving, feeling important.
  • Freedom- independent, free to do what you want.
  • Fun- learning, relaxation, laughter.
  • Survival – food, shelter, clothing, health and exercise.

I like this classification of our needs as it is understandable, relatable and young people generally grasp the meaning and importance of each concept quickly. I find it is important that each need is looked at individually and rated for its strength and importance, i.e. we all have different need strengths. For example one person might have a high need for love and belonging and a low need for power, whereas another person might have a high need for freedom and fun and a lower need for love and belonging.

By taking the time to identify which are strong needs, and which are lower needs, for each of us, we can learn some important things that we need to do to take care of ourselves. When we meet our needs we will feel better about ourselves and are able to do our best in our daily lives. When we identify the needs which are most important to us, we can focus on these needs. We can also reflect and look at finding better ways to improve those needs.

An example of how important meeting our needs are, is when we have an argument or a falling out with an important person in our life. Love & belonging is one of our most important needs. As Dr Glasser said “Good relationships are the core of mental health and happiness.” We can all relate to when we are not getting along with the people we care about; we do not feel good, our minds wander, we don’t feel positive and in many cases we may feel persistently worried or guilty.

However when we consciously work to get along better with others, we tend to feel more positive and as a consequence are more productive, social and eager to do things with others. We often tend to belittle our own needs for the sake of other things i.e our families, jobs, commitments. Paradoxically however, we cannot be fully present or involved in any area of our lives unless we take the time to care for our own needs. It’s not selfish to do so, in fact we are better able to help others if we do.

For me, helping others to identify their needs and how they can better meet these needs, is an integral part of any learning about developing positive well-being. Sometimes it is important to be a little selfish and concentrate on our own needs, before we can really be there for anyone else.

Link to shop: Choices – Facilitators Manual Description

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