Since I was a child, and for most of my life, I have suffered from an existential malaise that I could not define and whose causes I could not understand even less. I only sensed that it concerned my relationships with others and the differences between them and me. But I was certain of one thing: understanding the nature and causes of my sufferings would help me to defeat them, or at least alleviate them.
So I began to take an interest in psychology, convinced that it would help me to shed light on my problems and overcome them, and I had my first experiences of psychotherapy, which I interrupted after a few weeks, having ascertained their ineffectiveness and the therapist’s attempt to fit me into his predefined theoretical schemes without taking into account my unique peculiarities. It seemed more useful and productive for me to study psychology as self-taught, enticed by its promises of personal and social improvement.
However, I soon discovered that there was not just one psychology, but many different ones, which ignored or discredited each other, and although each claimed not to need the others, none seemed to be sufficient to deal with my problems.
Of all the psychology books in circulation, I would have liked to find one that brings together useful ideas from different psychological theories, i.e. a manual to be used on all occasions to understand and deal with psychological problems of mine and others, with the ultimate goal of suffering less and enjoying more. But I have never found such a book, and so, after many hesitations and some human and literary experiences that have particularly enlightened me, I decided to write it myself, both to put in order everything I have learned during my pursuits of a lifetime, and to allow other people to benefit from what I have learned. The result is the book that you are reading now and that I hope will be useful to you, as the things you will find here have been for me.
I have written this book to understand (as far as possible) how we are made and how we function, especially concerning our feelings, motivations, knowledge, and relationships with others.
I have chosen Psychology of Needs as the title because I consider psychological research indispensable to understand the reasons and logic of our behavior, and because I consider the needs (and their satisfaction dynamics) essential for the formation and maintenance of the life of organisms and the conservation of their species.
Despite the title, this work is not specialized, but generalist. It has the ambition to include, in broad terms, everything that is important for us to understand (using the tools of the natural sciences and the humanities) to live a satisfactory life as far as possible. Instead of depth and detail, I have preferred completeness and the overall view, instead of the specialist knowledge, the general understanding.
During my research, I collected from the scientific and literary heritage on human nature (psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, literature, etc.) a quantity of mostly specialized and fragmentary notions, details of an indefinite whole. Reflecting critically on these notions, I have selected several authors that I consider useful for this book, and I have integrated and summarized their ideas into an organic logical structure.
What is original in this work are, in my opinion, the connections I have established between the ideas of different authors and my understanding of their concepts. Furthermore, here I have described practices and tools for psychotherapy and self-improvement that I have conceived and experienced on myself.
The ultimate goal of this book is to help (myself and others) to become wiser, that is, more capable of knowing and satisfying one’s own and others’ needs and, consequently, to be as happy as possible. All this in a sustainable way for the person, society, and the environment in an ecological sense. To this end, I have tried to cover the most significant aspects of human existence in a document that can be used as a vademecum.
I would define my approach to the study of human nature sentimental pragmatism in the sense that I consider feelings (i.e. pleasure and pain in all their possible forms, intensities, and manifestations) the most real and important things for a human being, and the measure of every value.
The writing of this book has been difficult, indeed tormented, not so much for the complexity of the subject matter dealt with for a conflict between two antithetical needs (in the sense that the satisfaction of one entails the frustration of the other): on the one hand the need to pursue knowledge and wisdom, to create something original and useful, to verbalize and share my ideas; on the other hand that of being appreciated, accepted and loved by others as much as possible.
This conflict is because we normally tend to consider as a threat those who think they have something new to teach us about human nature (and therefore also about our personality). The threat is the risk of discovering that we have misconceptions, illusory, and/or deficient ideas about life, nature, the others, and ourselves.
In that sense, this work has been a challenge and a kind of self-therapy for me.
See also: Summary of the Psychology of Needs.
I thank all those who, with their demonstrations of esteem, encouraged me to do this work, and in particular:
- my friend the psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, philosopher and “pananthropologist” Luigi Anèpeta, without whose teachings I could not have conceived this book;
- the psychologist Claudia Muccinelli who assisted me in structuring and revising the text;
- my friend Giovanni Milone for the long hours spent together on Skype exchanging ideas, making assumptions and discussing human nature and the functioning of the mind;
- my friend Laura Gentili, for her precious contribution to the improvement of my linguistic style;
- my daughter Laura, for her excellent advice on how to structure the book and what to add to it to make it more interesting for potential readers.
Next chapter: Wisdom and happiness.