What Are the Basic Human Needs

There are many overused and abused terms in the human language instigated by emotion. I need a new car. We need a vacation. I need someone to feel worthy. Yet it’s really the same bare essentials that root us in true contentment. While we each carry different burdens, hold different desires and strive for different goals, we are all driven by parallel reasons. So, what are the basic human needs and how do you meet them in a healthy way?

We all have different reasons for doing what we do. For taking certain actions, behaving the way we behave. Yet there’s an inner commonality that drives people to make the choices they make. It’s not necessarily the action itself that reveals much at all, but the basic human needs behind that action. There are, often times unconscious, patterns that we exhibit everyday which are behind both our big and small, seemingly insignificant, decisions. These patterns are driven by, according to Tony Robbins, renowned life coach and author, and they are six basic human needs. These needs, or reasons, are why we do what we do. What are the basic human needs? How can there be only six?

Well there are six needs but believe it or not each one can mean something a little different for every person. So we will explore in a moment, what are said to be the basic human needs yet know that they are deeply rooted and profound.

So let’s start by saying yes, life and people can be wildly and even inexplicably complicated. Yet we all have only six basic reasons that are really behind our choices and behavior. Pretty hard to believe right? I’m talking people everywhere, from all walks of life. Most of us attribute how we live our life to the result of past experience, education, even problems, along with a wide range of emotions. But strip all of that down and you have these six basic human needs; and once you read them, you will hopefully understand yourself and others on a deeper, more compassionate and balanced level.

What are the 6 Basic Human Needs

As we peel the proverbial onion to reveal what the basic human needs are, you will find that all six, while yes ‘basic’, run deep. Yes these needs are simple but they have the power to significantly impact on your happiness and success. When you first pose the question, what are the basic human needs, know first and foremost what they are not. These needs are not desires. They are not goals. They are not acquired by way of external influences or “things”. While every culture, every human being, has different goals and desires, we all nevertheless have the same core needs. And once you understand a little more about how each of these drives you, or someone else you encounter, you will have the insight to manage your own life and relationships in a productive, meaningful way.

Click to Expand Each of the 6 Basic Human Needs:

The First Basic Human Need

1| Need for Certainty

Think about your decision-making process. How much certainty do you attempt to involve in those big and small choices? Many accept certainty as a rare luxury. Others consider it a necessity. This particular need holds different weight for different people, but can be quite the source of stress and anxiety.

Certainty is such a profound and strong yet relatively basic human need because we all crave assurance and comfort. Yet Tony explains that certainty is indicative of the need for survival because we all want to avoid pain. The need for certainty is built in to us so much so that if someone takes it away, the fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. For others, on a more moderate level, not being in control can cause aggravation, fear or mistrust. A highly valued need for certainty means you usually like to keep things the same and not take risks. So start to ask yourself, what types of things does your brain tell you you need to be certain?

We all need certainty. How do we meet the need?

There are positive and empowering, neutral, or negative and disempowering ways that we meet our need for certainty (or any of the other needs). The problem is most people meet their needs, let’s say for certainty, temporarily and not for the long term. Most people meet needs that work for the moment. Call it the sugar high, shiny object syndrome of certainty. You acquired the house, you received your bonus, or maybe you delay a little longer leaving a (toxic) relationship … but now what?

You must create goals and make decisions that are not only attainable but sustainable in order to support your well-being in a positive way. Find that threshold, whether it’s lowering your expectations or raising them, to break through in order to say, I’ve had enough, I am moving forward. Don’t be someone who will sacrifice your goals and dreams to meet those immediate, possibly dead-end, needs.

The Second Basic Human Need

2| Need for Uncertainty

What if you were certain of every moment of your life? You’d know what others will say, feel, think and do before anything ever happens. In the beginning of this new elation, how would you feel? Awesome, and maybe empowered right? Totally in control! But how might that certainty begin to change after a while? Would you start to feel rather bored? Likely really bored from living an uneventful, anti-climatic life. A life without variety can be rather a drag – sounds so basic but in a bad way. That’s why the second basic human need is the need for variety or uncertainty.

We all need some level of surprise and variety. The saying variety is the spice of life does hold true. Do you like surprises? Let’s rephrase that. Do you like only the surprises you want? Consider this before craving the need to be in control of all things that haven’t happen yet: variety keeps your brain awake, your senses fresh and your soul alive.

We all need uncertainty. How do we meet the need?

Now I’m not saying you have to sleep with one eye open always expecting the unexpected. You can achieve and enjoy this very human need for uncertainty in many positive, empowering ways. Seek more variety by simply trying new things, learning different skills and meeting new people – or just getting to know some of the people who right now only play a casual role in your life. In other words, embrace what it means to live with curiosity and try your best to always have and utilize a growth mindset.

The Third Basic Human Need

3| Need for Significance

To feel unique and special are not basic at all but they are fundamentally basic human needs. One of our most popular articles is about overcoming the need for external validation. Having an approval seeking personality means always trying to feel important and needed. While this craving for significance can often be based on low self-esteem, it’s not always the case. The need to feel and live with a sense of significance is also a really common human emotion.

We all need significance. How do we meet the need?

So you can go in two different directions to achieve the need for significance. You can put down others to build yourself up, or you can work at it, and take some risks at times, to do unto others as you would want for yourself. Choose the latter, the empowering, positive and sometimes more difficult road.

Work for it. Earn it. Resist the tendency to base your importance and success on someone else’s failure. Even if you don’t know or even life them. Be true to who you are and who you want to be by engaging authentically with others. Your significance will not only be recognized by them, it will be proudly recognized by you.

The Fourth Basic Human Need

4| Need for Connection and Love

You’re not human if you haven’t been hurt or disappointed in a relationship at some point in time. Whether a loss of connection or love has resulted from family dysfunction, romantic breakups, broken friendships, or any struggle with another person, this a critical need and it affects all of us.

Most of us experience some type of pain through not feeling or being loved they way we think we need, so what do we do? Often we minimize future connections. This doesn’t mean that a past relationship has been toxic, it can just be a source of hurt or disappointment and that’s enough to influence how you handle future relationships. Possibly even affects how you live your life.

We all need connection and love. How do we meet the need?

Use your other basic human needs in a positive way. Be (1) certain of the people you allow in your space by removing toxic people from that same space. Create (2) uncertainty and variety by avoiding complacency in your relationships. Practice a growth mindset. Support your own (3) significance by nurturing others with purity of intent. One of the safest and wholesome ways to connect and sustain love is through your need for significance. Not by trying to excessively please others but by practicing generosity. You will find a sense of fulfillment when you take healthy steps in maintaining meaningful connections.

The Fifth Basic Human Need

5| Need for Growth

The first 4 basic human needs we’ve covered so far address the general needs of your personality. These last two are needs that create a higher and even spiritual level of fulfillment. Your need for growth is the need to feel and be alive. Own Your Best refers to keeping life in forward moving motion, and we always say that complacency is kryptonite to living your best life. If your professional life isn’t growing, it’s failing. Or if your relationship isn’t growing it’s stagnant. If your physical well-being is not where you want it to be, it’s weighing your down.

Whether it’s your career, your relationships or your self-image, once familiarity sets in so does complacency, discontentment and ultimately unhappiness. What was once a big dream and your source of hope becomes just a way of living that you have settled in to and settled for.

We all need growth. How do we meet the need?

Remember growth mindset? Well, in a broad sense, progress equals happiness. Make progress. If you are not where you want to be, but you start making progress, you are fulfilling the your fundamental need for growth. Anytime you make progress, that’s with any big or small achievement, you build momentum and thus maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem, hope and happiness.

The purpose of a goal is not to get the goal, the purpose of a goal is who we become trying to achieve it.

Tony Robbins
The Sixth Basic Human Need

6| Need for Contribution

You can only experience so much happiness and keep it in only for yourself. Even if you are a super private person, if something positive happens to you, do you hold it in? Or is your first instinct to share it with someone with whom you are close? Also, how does it feel when you give the gift of knowledge, assistance or support to someone else? There is only so much joy you can hold inside without indulging that need to share it. By sharing an experience, or your experience, it becomes bigger. It becomes more. Contribution is where relationships and self-worth are both nourished and satisfied in a healthy way.

We all need contribution. How do we meet the need?

Share the good and the bad. Be open and approachable. Make yourself available for others to share with you too. Step outside of your world and experience life with someone else. Contribute not only your time and your talent but be emotionally available to others too. This all comes back to you greater than you gave it.

If Human Needs are So Basic, Why Don’t They Look Same for Everyone?

If we all have the same basic human needs, why do we behave differently? The reason you and I and everyone else respectively behave in different ways is because we value what each these basic needs mean to each of us in a unique way. As a broad example, if I value certainty the most and you value love as your most important need, we may not always be aligned with one another. While we may both share a love and respect for each other, if you lack certainty about our relationship, or even life in general, you may not be as open with me. And I, the one who values certainty, may often look for (and need) continual reassurance from you.

We all have the same needs but the difference is which of the top two you value most out the six. Because these top two determine your direction in life… Understand what your top two needs are.

Tony Robbins

Yet, to explore this scenario a little more deeply, two people can also value the same one or two basic needs equally but have different approaches to achieving those needs. You may have a different take on what it means to experience love or to be loved. And I may have a different view on what it takes to really be certain about a variety of things such as success, faith, relationships, etc. Neither of us are wrong or right in how we go about achieving our needs (as long as we approach those needs in a positive way).

So when we ask what are the basic human needs, it’s not a simple answer or definitive list. While Tony Robbins breaks down these needs in terms that we can understand on the surface, it’s only through self-awareness and self-exploration that we can really internalize them and also relate better to each one. But the good news in this big question about what drives us to do what we do is that we crave answers to our own humanness and desire to connect with one another on a deeper level.

Combining Human Needs to Live Your Best Life

When you realize that doing what you do or feeling a certain way meets more than one of your needs, then you become addicted, in a positive or a negative way, to that mindset or behavior. For example, while certainty and uncertainty are opposite needs, you can still utilize both and value them deeply to achieve what you want. More specifically, ever go back to the theatre to see the same movie a second time? You know how it ends right? Yet you’re certain that you’ll enjoy it, but maybe hoping for some variety because you’ve forgotten some of the scenes. Nevertheless you’ll enjoy the movie all over again.

So it’s not if you are able to meet your needs. You can meet any of the needs above, especially the first four needs pertaining to personality. The question is How? The important thing to focus on is not if any of your needs are attainable. The important thing is if they are – and how you go about fulfilling them – are sustainable? Remember, the key is in how you approach each need and if your mindset and behavior are empowering, neutral or negative.

Therefore, know that if you want to make positive changes to your life, shiny objects and occasional willpower are temporary. But if more and more of your needs are met in a mindful and positive way, happiness will flow in to a strong and continuous momentum.

Basic Human Needs Need Awareness

So what is the biggest addiction in our culture? It isn’t alcohol, it’s not drugs, and believe it or not, it’s not even social media! Our biggest addiction is our problems. Problems give us temporary power in many ways. They allow us to try to deal with our deepest fear which is that we are not enough and that we won’t be loved. Why does this work so well? Because we all have problems. So it’s not my fault, it’s this problem or that problem. Problems like bad bosses, aches and pains, broken relationships, not having enough money, or too much bad luck imply to us that we can avoid taking responsibilities for a moment.

So we unconsciously meet our temporary needs through excuses. We meet those needs through our problems – but I’m here to tell you that any problem, big or small, will never fulfill your deepest needs.

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Breaking Down Human Needs

So let’s break down and get back to basics – pun intended. The first 4 basic human needs we talked about address the general needs of your personality. Everyone can find some level of certainty, uncertainty, connection and significance. Whether it’s in a positive or negative way, we can meet our personality needs. The last two basic needs are needs that create a higher more spiritual level of fulfillment. And few can easily achieve the two basic human needs of ongoing growth and contribution. Yet it is in continual growth and contribution where joy and abundance live.

Ultimately who you become will make you very happy or very dissatisfied depending how you have chosen to approach your decision making and live your life.

So don’t just look at the behaviors of others anymore. Now that you know what the basic human needs are, you can practice proactively shifting your focus over to how to try and meet each of those needs. When we observe through the lens of why rather than what, we become more tolerant and compassionate of others and ourselves. We build long, healthy relationships. And even more importantly, we achieve our goals by growing through life with greater awareness.

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