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The Importance of Your Basic Needs (Psychology)

It is a simple fact of life that we all have certain basic human needs. Understanding these needs are important because they help to reveal what drives human behavior and thus what makes people want to achieve certain things in life.

In psychology, human needs have been popularized by the psychologist Abraham Maslow who stated that needs exist in a hierarchy. The needs listed by Maslow, starting from the most basic, are: physiological, safety, love and belongingness, esteem, cognitive, and finally, the need for self actualization.

Before we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs however, we are going to take a look at needs from a more general perspective and see how they relate to the type of success that a person is likely to achieve.


woman holding baby

Our primary need in any environment is to feel secure.

Feeling secure in your environment and with your life is the most basic human need and must be fulfilled before any other need. There are different types of security that a person can have. These are physical, emotional and financial security.

Physical security: This is the need to feel safe from suffering physical harm and the need to have enough food and water to keep you alive. If you feel as though your life is in danger, keeping yourself alive will be your main concern above all others.

People who lack physical security tend to be angry, stressed, fearful and defensive because their very existence is under threat. This can cause them to commit illegal acts or even harm other people just in order to survive.

Emotional security: This is the need to feel safe in regards to how you feel about yourself and your emotional mood. If for example, you constantly suffer from widely varying moods, you may be unable to function normally in society without psychiatric medication.

Bipolar disorder is an example of what can happen when a person lacks emotional security. People with this disorder can be very difficult to live with due to their bouts of depression and mania. Such wild variations in mood may lead to self harm or suicide, or the harm of other people.

Financial security: In today’s society, having financial security is almost as important as having physical security, although one could argue that the two are co-dependent as in order to eat and keep a roof over your head you need money to pay for such things.

As a result, people who lack financial security almost invariably end up lacking physical security because they have little or no money to support themselves with.

Those who argue that money is “evil” or “bad” would do well to remember this, as without money, it would be very difficult for a person to survive without the assistance of others.


If something threatens your sense of security you will automatically try to defend and protect it. Without security, you will feel angry, defensive and fearful.


cat lying in bed

Once you feel secure you can then start to get comfortable.

The need for comfort can only come after one is able to achieve a sense of security in their life. If you do not have security, you won’t be thinking about making yourself comfort as you will be pre-occupied with the threats and dangers in your immediate environment.

Comfort can occur on many levels, although it is convenient to use the same categories as those we have just used for security as the need for comfort usually always comes after you are feeling secure.

Physical comfort: If you have successfully escaped from a lion who was chasing after you, then lying down, catching your breath and relaxing for a moment would be an example of physical comfort. If you do not feel comfortable where you are, this can create stress and adversely affect your mood.

woman sitting on chair

Your mood is directly related to how comfortable you feel in a given situation.

Emotional comfort: This need relates to the need to feel comfortable with the emotions that you are experiencing. It is strongly related to emotional security, but it can also be a powerful motivator of behavior as if you are uncomfortable in a particular emotional state, you will try to do something to move yourself into a state of comfort. For example, moving yourself from a sad emotion to a happy emotion by watching a funny movie.

Financial comfort: Money may be needed for survival, but how much money you have determines how financially comfortable you feel. This however, can vary depending on the type of lifestyle that you live and what you are accustomed to.

For some people, just having enough money to pay the bills and buy some food to eat will make them feel comfortable, while for others, they may not feel comfortable until they have a large amount of money in the bank which they can use in an emergency if necessary.


After you have achieved an acceptable level of security, your next need is for comfort. This can occur as physical, emotional and financial comfort and can be a strong motivator of behavior.


women walking

Leisure provides time for one to relax and explore their surrounding environment.

It is a natural human desire to take some time out from your normal everyday routine in order to relax, have fun and enjoy yourself either alone or in the company of others.

Leisure, however, can only be obtained after you have achieved security and comfort since it is not an absolute basic need in terms of being necessary for human survival.

But with that said, leisure time still is very important, as without it, you would likely “burn” yourself out if all you were doing was working and not resting occasionally.

Not having leisure time can also be extremely demotivating if you feel as though you have nothing to look forward to in life. Conversely, the promise of future leisure time can be very motivating.

It is also worth noting that too much leisure time can adversely affect a person’s life and their future prospects, such as those related to their health or career.

If all you do is sit at home in front of the TV all day, then you are unlikely to become very successful in life as you won’t be doing any meaningful work that will benefit you in the long-term.


After you have enough comfort and security, your next need is for leisure. Holidays, sport and hobbies are all forms of leisure. Having time for rest and relaxation allows you to recharge your batteries and function at your best.



Throughout all the billions of people on this earth, love is the one thing that’s common to us all.

Love is perhaps one of the most important of all the basic human needs, as without love, a person’s life could become unbearable.

In general, there are two types of love. The first is love for yourself, and the second is love for others.

Love for yourself: If you do not love yourself you are likely to engage in self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors such as abusing drugs or alcohol. A failure to love yourself can also stop you from reaching higher level needs such as the need for respect and the need to fulfill your purpose in life.

Ultimately, if a person is unable to love themselves, they will usually slip into a deep depression and may eventually commit suicide.

One of the most common reasons for a lack of self-love occurs due to feelings of inadequacy, such as about the way one looks or the lack of abilities or attributes a person has.

don't say you love me girl

If you can’t love yourself you will never be able to accept love from others.

Love for others: Loving other people is crucial to the development of long-term and meaningful friendships and relationships. If you are unable to love others, you are likely to behave in ways that makes it difficult for others to love you, which could then leave you alone and without any companions to spend your time with.

Loving others, however, can at times be very risky, because if someone lets you down who you love, your emotional security and emotional comfort will both be adversely affected. In such cases, you will be brought down to satisfying your lower level needs again before you are able to achieve your higher level needs.

For this reason, it is not uncommon for people to be guarded over who they love and not give out their love freely until someone has proved themselves worthy of receiving it.


Everyone seeks the attention and love of others. Love makes you feel important and special which in turn raises your self-esteem. Being loved by others can help give your life meaning and purpose, even if previously there was none.


baby looking up at adult

We all desire to be admired and respected by those around us.

The need for respect is strongly related to the need for love, as without love, one cannot truly respect themselves or others. Respect means to recognize the qualities and achievements of other people or of yourself, and can be a strong motivator of behavior especially in those of a young age.

Teenagers for example, may have respect for certain adults in their lives, such as their parents or actors who they see in movies, and then try to emulate those people as a result of the respect they have for them. Respecting other people, can therefore greatly influence the type of person that you become, either in a positive or negative way.

A lack of self-respect has similar effects to a lack of love. A person who does not respect their body for example, may abuse it through taking drugs, smoking excessively, eating junk food and not exercising.

Unfortunately, this lack of self-respect can then put lower level needs at risk, as without self-respect, you may not be able to achieve comfort, such as enjoying a healthy body and mind, or security, such as engaging in risky sexual behaviors which puts your life in danger.


We need to be recognized and respected by others because we all have an ego and naturally seek the approval and praise of others. People will work very hard to gain and keep respect, especially in their own community.


man walking

Knowing that your life is going somewhere will give you a sense of purpose.

It is a natural question to ask why you are here on earth, and having a purpose in life can help you to answer that question and provide you with a sense of contentment that your life has a worthy purpose to fulfill.

Without a purpose, a person may feel as though their life has no point to it, and as though they have no ultimate destination to aim for. This can leave a person feeling unfulfilled in life, frustrated and eventually depressed.

Finding your purpose in life however, is not an easy thing to do. Some people find their purpose in life early on in their teenage years. Some, spend many years searching for it, whilst others never find it at all.

If a person is able to find their purpose in life, they will often experience a “second wind” and feel renewed vitality and energy that drives them forward to accomplish their aims and objectives.

Finding your purpose in life will also help to benefit your mental state of mind, as those who do find their purpose, usually have high levels of self-esteem and self-confidence that help them to successfully deal with the challenges and adversities they encounter in life.

walking in circle

Not knowing what to do in life can make it seem as though you’re walking around in circles.

Maslow believed that a person’s life purpose, what he called self actualization, is the highest level need that a person can achieve.

It’s important to remember though, that lower level needs such as security, comfort, leisure, love, respect and purpose can still be threatened at times due to certain life events and personal circumstances.

Having achieved a sense of purpose, however, will allow a person to recover much faster than someone who has not found their purpose in life, which will enable them to bring each of these needs into a state of positive fulfillment.


We all desire to have purpose and meaning in life. A sense of purpose gives you something to work towards. Without purpose, your life will lack direction and feel unfulfilled.

How Needs Can Be Satisfied

In addition to knowing the different types of needs that a person can have, it is also important to know the different ways that a need can be satisfied.

All of your needs for example, can be satisfied in two main ways. You can either satisfy them now or sometime in the future. This is called immediate or delayed gratification.

holding carrot and cake

Delayed gratification means eating the carrot first, and is a key trait of successful individuals.

Most people want something now, and so short-term immediate gratification is the most common form of need fulfillment.

For example, a student decides to drop out of school, get a job and buy a car so that he can impress the ladies. He has now satisfied his short-term need, but at what cost? Most likely a lifetime of low wages and unfulfilling work.

Simply put, people prefer to do what is fun and easy, rather than what is hard and necessary. For this reason, immediate gratification, with little or no regard for future consequences, is one of the biggest causes of failure that many people knowingly self inflict upon themselves.

Why society is geared towards failure

50 years ago, when children were asked what they wanted to be when they were older, most would answer an astronaut or a teacher. What’s the answer today?

I wanna be famous

In other words, they want all their needs fulfilled in the shortest period of time and with the least amount of effort. Since we are all naturally lazy and greedy, this is hardly surprising. But what has changed in the last 50 years that has made society so focused on short-term gain? Well, there are many factors, but here are a few…

I once read a study on how the introduction of the TV remote control was responsible for increasing ‘impatience’ within society. Instead of having to get up and change the channel, you could now flick between them with the press of a button. Immediate results, minimal effort.

tv remote

A TV remote provides one with instant gratification. This can condition a person to expect the same quick and easy results in life.

How about deliveries and the promise of getting something fast? Order a pizza and ‘if it doesn’t arrive within 20 minutes your money back’. What about instant messaging or emails? No more waiting a week for your letter to be received!

Whilst getting things done quickly is certainly a good thing, it has created a tendency for us to think about the now and not about the future. This causes us to engage in actions that ultimately lead to long-term failure. You can see this in almost everyone around you.

People can’t wait to finish work so that they can go home and spend the rest of their time socializing, watching TV or playing video games. This comes at the expense of long-term failure in life.

What successful people do

With the majority of the population unwilling to delay satisfying their needs, is it any wonder that only a small percentage of people actually become truly successful? Successful people think long-term, and this means experiencing short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain.

I remember reading about Bill Gates when he was younger. He was so committed to his work that his colleagues would often find him sleeping under his desk. That’s short term pain! Jump forward a few years and what’s he’s experiencing now? That’s right, long-term gain and lots of it!

Bill Gates

Bill Gates practiced delayed gratification through many years of consistent effort. He is now reaping the benefits of all his hard work.

But please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that you should get rid of your bed and start sleeping under your desk! Leisure time is extremely important and you need it to function at your best. But if you want to be really successful, then you need to be working at least 14-18 hours a day, not the standard 8 hours.

As Brian Tracy once said, to be successful do what successful people do. 8 hours is to earn a living, anything over that is to earn success.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who believed that human behavior is motivated by certain needs.

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow believed that much of human behavior can be explained in terms of a drive towards the fulfilment of different needs.

These needs, according to Maslow, must be satisfied in a particular order starting with our lower level needs before we can satisfy our higher level needs. Today, we know this as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Let’s have a look at each of these needs now by starting with the lower needs and working our way up to the higher needs.


man eating messy face

Physiological needs concern our most basic drives that are necessary for us to survive.

Our first needs are associated with basic survival, such as the need for food, water, sex and sleep. These are all associated with our biological drives and are therefore needs you must satisfy in order to stay alive.



Safety is obtained by creating a secure environment. Some people choose to do this with pets such as dogs.

Our safety need involves the need for shelter and protection from harm or injury. Safety needs can be found in behaviors such as installing a home alarm system, wearing a seat belt and looking both ways before you cross the street.

Belongingness & Love

woman holding man hand

Human beings are social beings and so we all have a strong desire to seek the companionship of those around us.

These needs include the need for affection and love from others. Some examples could include joining a club or finding a romantic partner.


man hugging self

In order to feel happy in life you need to feel as though others accept you and that you accept yourself.

Esteem needs include our need to be liked and respected by others, and for us to feel the same way about ourselves (self-esteem). This behavior often manifests itself as ambition, whereby we hope to become successful so that other people will respect and admire us.

Self esteem can broadly be divided into being either high or low. With low self-esteem you will often have a negative outlook on life, doubt your own abilities and your own personal worth. With high self-esteem, you are likely to feel confident in your abilities and worthiness to achieve success.


man holding brain

Mental stimulation is important for keeping the brain healthy, but it also allows you to discover new ways of bringing meaning into your life.

Cognitive needs include the need for mental stimulation, creativity and using your intelligence. Some behaviors that stem from our cognitive needs include reading, writing and solving puzzles.

Note: This stage was added later, and was not included in Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs

Self Actualization

man holding lights around head

Self actualization is the drive to be the best you can be.

According to Maslow, the need for self actualization is an “emergent” need because we only act upon it once all our lower level needs have been fulfilled.

Self actualization refers to the need to be who you were meant to be by maximizing your talents and abilities. If you are unable to do this, then you will feel disappointed in life and with yourself.

If, however, you are able to become self actualizing, then you will feel happy with your life and occasionally have “peak experiences”. These experiences are moments of intense joy and satisfaction that you get from overcoming an obstacle or reaching a goal.

The Will to Meaning

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor who argued that our highest need is the need for life to make sense and to have a purpose in life. He called this “the will to meaning”.

Victor Frankl

Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor who believed that every person wants to feel as though their life has a meaning and purpose to it.

According to Frankl, if a person lives a meaningful life, then they will find that life satisfying and rewarding. If however, they live a meaningless life, they will find it empty and pointless.

Frankl called this latter state the “existential vacuum”, which describes a state in which a person becomes demoralized because they see no point in their existence and have no purpose in life.

Finding your values

Frankl’s theory of motivation stems largely from his own experience in a Nazi concentration camp, where, as a trained psychiatrist, he saw it as his duty to help others in any way that he could.

From this experience, Frankl came to the conclusion that when someone feels that they have a purpose or reason for existing in life, that they can then endure much hardship and pain to fulfil that purpose.

concentration camp

A person who has a purpose to live for can endure much pain and suffering.

In order to realize this will to meaning, Frankl asserts that we need to sense that what we are doing has significance to others or to society as a whole.

For example, raising your children in the best way possible or creating a charity for those in need could be examples of a person’s will to meaning.

The underlying theme is of making a contribution, or helping others, rather than just trying to help yourself. For those who are suffering from an existential vacuum (i.e. feel like their life has no purpose), Frankl believed that they need to discover what their core values are so that they can act upon them to give their life meaning and purpose.

Reviewed – 29th March 2016

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