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Whatever emotion you’re after, whatever vehicle you chase — travelling the world, getting married, raising a family, building a business —whatever you think your Nirvana is, there are 6 basic, universal needs that make us tick and drive all human behavior. Combined, they are the force behind the great things we do and the crazy things (other) people do 😉
Although every human being is unique, we all have the same 6 needs. What differs though, is HOW we value and PRIORITIZE those needs, and this determines the direction of our life. Understanding this concept is probably one of the most important skills that you ever acquire. Because by understanding the needs that shape your own behavior, you can take back control over your life, and even learn how to create new emotional and behavioral patterns that lead to lasting fulfillment.
Those 6 human needs are:
The first four are essential to human survival, these are called the needs of the personality. The last two are essential to human fulfillment, they are called the needs of the spirit. Typically we tend to value 2 of the 6 human needs most, and everyone seeks to fulfill these basic needs. Some ways of satisfying these needs are good for the person, good for others and good for society, and some ways are bad for the person and bad for others.
Obviously the key is to meet your needs in a way that is sustainable and in a way that gives you more pleasure than pain. For instance, you can create a sense of certainty by reading books, educating yourself and obtaining a degree so that you’ll get a great job. Or you can create certainty by dominating and controlling others in your environment. The former is obviously a more positive and sustainable way to create certainty than the latter. Now let’s talk a little more about these 6 human needs:
Certainty: the first need is for certainty. We want to have certainty that we are safe, have pleasure, avoid pain and can feel comfortable in our environment. We all need to have some sense of certainty and security that we have a roof over our head, we know where our next meal comes from, we know that our colleague won’t attack us and we know we can visit the doctor and obtain care when we feel sick. These are just some examples of what is meant with a basic sense of certainty.
The degree to which each person desires or needs certainty varies. Some people may feel secure by living in a one bedroom appartment collecting an unemployment check. Other people feel certain when they earn one million dollars per year. The need for certainty can also be met by holding rigidly to a dogma or a doctrine.
Code words for certainty are: security, safety, comfort, stability, predicability, feeling grounded and protection.
Uncertainty/Variety: The second need is for uncertainty or the need for variety and challenges that will exercise our physical and emotional range. Our body, mind and emotional well-being all need uncertainty, surprise, suspense and exercise. People who are stuck in the same routine day in and day out will seek variety and look for change. Just like a sense of security is comforting, so the excitement that comes from variety and change is crucial to feel alive. For some people variety may be satisfied by watching a new tv show on Netflix. Others might go on an exotic trip or may seek high-risk activities like extreme sports or compulsive sexuality to satisfy their need for uncertainty. Unfortunately for a lot of us, a major source of variety is to experience problems.
Code words for uncertainty/variety are: change, fear, chaos, instability, entertainment, suspense, exertion, surprise, conflict and crisis.
Significance: The third need is for significance. We need to feel wanted, important, needed. When we were babies, we all needed to feel that we were number 1. Children in a family compete with each other and find a way to feel unique, to be special. Significance comes from comparing ourselves to others. While we are seeking for significance we become involved in hierarchical pecking orders and questions of superiority and inferiority. We can feel significant because we have succeeded at something, achieved something, but we can also feel significant by being the worst at something or by tearing down somebody or something.
Code words for significance are: importance, pride, standards, perfection, achievement, performance, discipline, evaluation, discipline, competition and rejection.
Connection/Love: The fourth need is for the experience of connection and love. We all need connection with other human beings, and everyone strives for and hopes for love (most of us settle for connection though, because love is too scary). As soon as we are born we need love and care for a long period of time and this need for love continues throughout our lives. It’s epitomized by the concept of romantic love, where one person will devote their life to us and make us feel complete. Not every culture has a concept of romantic love. So it’s then replaced by the love of family members, friends and community/tribe. Some people rarely experience love, but they have many ways of feeling connection with others in the workplace or community. The need to be loved is characteristic of all human beings.
Code words for love/connection are: unity, passion, togetherness, warmth, tenderness and desire.
Growth: The fifth need is for growth. Take a look around you in the universe. Anything you see is in one or two states, it’s either growing or dying. As Steve Siebold said:
“You’re either growing or dying. Stagnation does not exist in the universe”
So when we stop growing we die. We need to constantly develop emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We experience physical growth and change as we develop from infancy to adulthood and old age. We grow and change emotionally with every experience and we grow intellectually when we react to situations and the world around us.
Everything that you want to keep in life, like your health, money, happiness, relationship, love, must constantly be worked on, developed and expanded. If you don’t do that, it will degenerate. Some people satisfy the need to grow by reading books or by working out in the gym. Others have to study and learn constantly so that they feel they are truly growing.
Contribution: The sixth need is for contribution, going beyond our own needs and giving to others. A life is incomplete without the feeling that we make a contribution to others or to a cause. It’s in our very nature to give back, to leave our mark on the world. You can give to others by making a charitable donation, writing a book, giving time to community service, or by giving to your children.
As already mentioned above, the first 4 needs, certainty, uncertainty, significance and love are the needs of the personality and are essential for human survival. They are the core needs of the personality and everyone needs to feel that they have met them on some level. Even if they have to lie to themselves about it. The last two needs, growth and contribution, are essential for human fulfillment. These are the needs of the spirit and they are necessary for lasting fulfillment, but not everyone finds a way to satisfy these.
When the last 3 needs are satisfied, love, growth and contribution, they tend to cover all of our other needs. When we focus on something beyond yourself, most of our problems and sources of pain become less significant. Contribution is the human need that effectively regulates all of our other needs. Think about it, if you are focused on contributing to others, you feel the Certainty of being able to contribute (you can always find a way); you feel Variety (contribution is very interactive); you feel Significance because you know you are helping others and making their lives better; also the spiritual bond that is created when you help others gives a deep sense of connection; finally you as a human being also Grow by helping others.
As in everything human, people can experience paradoxes in their needs. You can have a strong need for certainty and at the same time a strong need for uncertainty, and therefore may suffer an inner conflict as to which of these needs are most important to satisfy. Also the need for significance often contradicts with the need for connection and love. It’s hard to connect to, or love someone who constantly feels the need to feel important. That’s also the reason why so many successful people, while they satisfy their need for significance, have problems with close relationships.
Which are your two most important needs? How do they determine the course of your life? How do you currently satisfy these needs? What would change in your life if one of them changed?
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