We all share simple requirements for sustaining life and health.
Too often needs get confused with wants, wishes,
desires, substitutes, or
deficits. Human needs are quite simple, but not often met.
- The minimal requirements of health and well-being.
- A physiological or psychological condition that must be satisfied to
- Innate psychological nutriments that are essential for ongoing
psychological growth, integrity, and well-being.
- Something that, when fulfilled, promotes integration and well-being and,
when thwarted, fosters fragmentation and ill-being.
Human needs can be classified as either physiological needs—those
required to sustain and grow a healthy body—or as psychological needs—those
required to sustain and grow a healthy mind.
An abundance of one asset cannot relieve a shortage of another. An abundance
of water cannot substitute for a shortage of food. An excess of relatedness
cannot compensate for a shortage of autonomy.
People relentlessly seek to fulfill their needs. Thirsty people focus
their attention and energy on getting water. If you are thwarted while working to fill
your needs, you will react very strongly, often with anger.
Unfortunately because many people are unaware of their true psychological needs,
too often they vigorously pursue ineffective substitutes.
One definition of violence is: denying the needs of
another. Needs are not negotiable; attempting to deny, block, diminish, or
remove them is an illegitimate act of violence.
Air—oxygen within a particular range of pressure, concentration,
and purity is vital to survival. Lack of oxygen kills within minutes.
- Water—access to
adequate safe drinking water, approximately 50 liters per person per day,
is a human need. Lack of water kills within days.
- Food—Adequate calories, meeting certain
requirements are required to sustain life.
Lack of food kills within days or weeks.
- Shelter—protection from extremes of heat, cold, intense sun,
prolonged precipitation, or other
exposure that can lead to hypothermia or hyperthermia. Protective clothing may
fill this need in certain environments.
- Sanitation—isolation or protection from toxins and pathogens—this includes removal of
human wastes, basic cleansing, and protections from harmful infectious agents such
as parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
sleep of sufficient depth. Research is
incomplete or disputed, but approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep
each night seems
- Touch—Active touch, perhaps as a caring caress, is essential to the
growth and healthy development of humans.
- Autonomy—Being free to pursue goals you choose. Having a sense
of choice, flexibility, and personal freedom. Self-governance. Autonomy is the converse of
being controlled, however it is not the same as independence, selfishness, or irresponsibility.
Autonomy is the feeling deep inside that your actions are your own choice; you
are neither complying with nor defying controls. It requires integration of
your choices and overcoming ambivalence.
- Competence—The ability to succeed at an optimal challenge. It is
the ability to do something well or to meet a required standard.
- Relatedness—Feeling connected with others. Having people to care
about, and people who care about you. The need to feel belongingness and
connectedness with others. It may take the form of friendship and
and sharing, group participation, community
involvement, and a variety of prosocial activities.
There are no other needs. All other candidates are discretionary “wants” or
they represent some surrogate for an actual need, such as deficit motives or
You can change what you want, but you cannot change
what you need. Work to understand your needs and align your wants and
goals with those
Each of these three psychological needs is further discussed under the topic
But what about . . .
Many people claim to need many things not listed here as needs. Also, the
hierarchy of needs
theory of Abraham
lists needs not described here. These
candidates can be understood in terms of true needs as follows.
Safety is the assured fulfillment of basic needs. It is the constant
intent to satisfy these needs. It summarizes and
emphasizes the importance of the needs. It is the need to meet the needs. It is
a result of a needs deficit.
Meaningfulness is a sense of coherence, integrity, and significance. It is the result
of acting with autonomy, attending to relatedness needs, exercising your
competence, and integrating the results. It is the result of meeting the needs.
Self-esteem, feeling good about yourself, has two manifestations known
as secure (or true) high self-esteem and
fragile (or contingent) high-self esteem. Secure self-esteem is based
on positive feelings of self-worth that are well anchored, authentic, and do not
rely on self-promotion. In contrast, fragile self-esteem relies on specific
outcomes that are easily threatened. As a result, people with fragile
self-esteem are continually seeking external reassurances of their worth.
Fragile high self-esteem results from a lack of autonomy, relatedness, or
competence. It is caused by a deficit of true needs. Secure high self-esteem
results from the integration of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. It
results from having needs met.
Human Rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are
entitled. They are prerequisites to attaining the human needs discussed here.
Human rights create the space that allows these needs to be met. For example,
The rights to life, liberty, and security are basic rights that allow a person
to live and seek autonomy. Prohibiting slavery allows for autonomy. Access
to education promotes competency. Protecting families promotes relatedness.
Wanting is the belief we can benefit by acquiring more. Buddhists believe
that wanting—desiring or longing for something—is a form of suffering that results from attachment—binding
yourself to something. They also believe that because
things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile. Understanding
impermanence—the transitory nature of things—allows us to avoid attachment and
reduce our wanting along with the suffering it causes. There can be more to life
than wanting more.
The Sand Mandala
is a fascinating Tibetan Buddhist tradition that dramatically demonstrates the transitory
nature—impermanence—of things. Several highly skilled and patient monks spend
days of painstaking effort to create the beautiful and intricate sand design.
Then in a ceremony the entire object is destroyed and poured into a river
or lake to celebrate its impermanence.
A long and difficult high-stakes winning streak got us here. Each of our
ancestors won the battle for survival and procreation in a brutally difficult,
primitive, and hostile world of kill or be killed. Our egos
have evolved over millions of
years of getting what we need to survive and reproduce. It was win or die for millions of
years. Our ancestors won and their rivals lost and often died. We evolved by
prevailing over danger and scarcity for millions of years. No wonder our egos
developed to protect ourselves so effectively against so many threats. But many
of us now live in
abundance. We need to tame our
insatiable egos so we can live together harmoniously in an abundant and compassionate
world. We need to manage the transformation from
more to enough. We need to recognize when we have enough,
become satisfied, and enjoy the gratification we can all have.
We have enough when we all have all our needs met. We have the abundance to
achieve this if no one takes too much before everyone gets enough.
More has brought us:
Subprime mortgages, foreclosures,
accounting scandals, wars, hydrogen bombs
and other nuclear weapons, the Holocaust and other acts of
traffic jams, urban sprawl, the
bridge to nowhere, cheating,
Vioxx and other dangerous prescription drugs, Twinkies, obesity, stress,
anxiety, pollution, paparazzi, deforestation, strip mining, overfishing,
drought, failed states, global warming, and other waste,
violence, destruction, and misery. We have become consumed.
Enough can bring us: peace of mind, integrity, tranquility, clean air, clean water, the beauty of
nature, a healthy environment to enjoy now and sustain for the future, awe, family,
friendships, community, safety, stability, trust,
leisure time, joyful play, meaningful work, authentic
respect, good health, reduced stress, ongoing education, deeper
understanding and appreciation, fun, enjoyment of the arts, transcendence, and
making significant contributions that help others. We can
enjoy what is already available to us.
Question: How much money is enough to make me happy? Answer: How much does
peace of mind cost?
- “There are paths of progress
other than growth. There can be more to life than more.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
- Take what you need and leave the rest.
- Think globally, act locally.
- “Citizens are grown-ups. Consumers are kids.” ~ Benjamin R. Barber.
- “When your cup is full, stop pouring.” ~
- “A rich person is not the one who has the most, but who needs the
- “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a
miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein
- “Live simply so others can simply live.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
- “Learn to distinguish
what matters from what glitters.” ~ Tim
Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, by
Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste
Self-Determination Theory Website, especially:
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000).
The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits:
Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry,
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000).
The darker and brighter sides of human existence:
Basic psychological needs as a unifying concept. Psychological
Inquiry, 11, 319-338.
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers,
by Robert Sapolsky
Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization,
by Lester R. Brown.
Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole,
by Benjamin R. Barber
Flow (aka- Flow: For Love of Water),
DVD by Maude Barlow
Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet,
by Tim Jackson
Craftsmen of necessity,
by Christopher Williams