6 Universal Human Needs
Human Needs Psychology tells us that there are six universal human needs, and that all human behavior is motivated by the desire to meet one or more of these needs. The first four needs (Certainty, Variety, Significance, and Love/Connection) are the needs of the personality. We all meet these needs in one way or another. In fact, people will even go so far as to violate their values to meet those first four human needs. The last two needs (Growth and Contribution) are called the needs of the spirit. Not everyone gets these last two needs met. However, we need to meet those needs in order to feel truly fulfilled.
The Driving Force of Your Life
We all use different vehicles to meet our human needs, and we can do that in positive, neutral, or negative ways. We all favor, or value, two of the human needs more than the other four. The two that you favor determine the driving force in your life. Once you understand what your driving force is, you can begin to understand how you make critical decisions in your life, including decisions about your career or job.
Without further ado, here are the six human needs, along with examples of how to meet these needs in an empowering or disempowering way through your work.
The Six Human Needs and Career Paths
- Certainty – the need to feel safe and comfortable. We all want to be certain that to some degree, we can avoid pain and experience pleasure. When describing their need for certainty, people will often use words such as safety, stability, predictability, and comfort.
You can meet your need for Certainty in your career through positive or negative avenues. For example, you may become an expert in your field, so you can feel certain about always having a job and being able to provide for your family. Another way to meet this need is to lower your expectations. This way you can feel certain about not failing, which could happen, if you choose to pursue your most exciting and challenging career goals.
- Variety – the need to have many different experiences and emotional states. Variety is the opposite of certainty; it is uncertainty. We all need some variety to feel truly alive. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. To describe their need for variety, people will often use words like adventure, change, excitement, fear, surprise, or unpredictability.
You can meet your need for Variety through a job that is constantly changing, or a job where you are always meeting new people and trying new things. You could also quit your job and get a new one every time you experience boredom for more than a few months at a time.
- Significance– the need to feel special, important, unique, and worthy of attention and love. We all share this need, but we may use our job to meet this need in vastly different ways.
You could feel significant by working for a non-profit, or working for a cause that you believe is deeply important. This would be an empowering way to meet your need for Significance. On the other hand, you could meet the same need by rising to the top of your organization, and managing in a domineering style that allows you to feel important by exercising your power.
- Love/Connection– the need to feel connected with other people, and the desire to give love and feel loved in return. We all need to be able to express love and feel connected with other people. However, many people in life settle for connection, because true love can be too scary.
You can meet your need for Love and Connection in a positive way, by working in a capacity where you take care of others and give them your love. One example of a job that could fulfill this need in an empowering way is working as a nanny. You could also meet this need through a less-empowering career, like working as an escort. Working as an escort probably will not make you feel loved, but it could meet your need for connection at a very high level.
- Growth – the need to be growing as a person, expanding your horizons, and making progress. All humans have a need to develop emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Many people meet their need for growth through their job, because they can constantly be learning and seeing themselves progress within an organization or industry. Of course you can get promoted by being the best at what you do, or you can get promoted by taking down those around you to make yourself look better in comparison.
- Contribution – the need to give and contribute to something outside of ourselves. It is the need to grow outside of the context of our own needs, and to give without expectations of return.
Careers in social work or social entrepreneurship are great examples of empowering ways to meet your need for contribution. You could also meet this need by being part of an organization like a gang, where you can contribute to the goals of the group, no matter what those goals are.
To further illustrate the point of meeting human needs through career choices, consider these two scenarios:
John – The Fund Accountant, Bored But Unwilling To Make A Change
Let’s call our first example John. He graduated from a prestigious college six years ago. Even though he is smart and very capable, John has not fallen into a career path that seems right for him. He has bounced from job to job every two years, and now works in financial services as a fund accountant. Although his job sounds good on paper and his dates seem impressed, John finds processing funds to be about as interesting as cleaning fish – his job bores him because he isn’t being intellectually challenged, and there are limited opportunities for growth. The only real benefit he gets from work is a paycheck, and even at that, it’s just enough to pay his bills. To top it off, John has a long commute and his boss doesn’t respect him. However, he does enjoy the company of the people he works with. His friends and family can clearly see that John has incredible untapped potential, and they consistently offer to help by introducing him to new contacts. They even send him postings for jobs that match his qualifications, but John does nothing to follow through. He complains about his job constantly, and is miserable at work each day, but John won’t take one step to make a change.
How could the 6 Human Needs explain John’s frustrating behavior? There is a good chance that John values Certainty and Love/Connection over the other four needs; they are his driving force. He would rather feel certain that he has a weekly paycheck and a steady job to go to each day, than to experience the uncertainty that comes with exploring new career paths. John gets his need for Love/Connection met by feeling like he belongs at work. He has friends there and he is part of a team. Even though John is only able to meet his needs for Growth, Contribution, Significance, and Variety at a very low level each day at work, he stays in the same dead-end job, because his driving force is Certainty and Love/Connection.
Jennifer – The Brand Manager, Successful But Unfulfilled
Now let’s consider Jennifer, a brand manager at a top public relations firm in New York City. Jennifer has incredible ability. She completed her bachelor’s degree at a top school ten years ago, and even got her MBA at an Ivy League school three years back. Jennifer has always worked in the marketing/advertising industry, and she has always been a top performer, rising through the ranks to become the brand manager for one of her company’s most important accounts. Jennifer is very good at what she does and gets paid handsomely. She has excellent potential for Growth, and she is on the fast track to the executive suite. Yet, Jennifer cannot escape the nagging feeling at the end of each week that something is missing. Her parents are proud of her and her LinkedIn profile shines, but deep down she doesn’t feel fulfilled. Yet she keeps pressing on, never daring to consider another career path. After all, she’s made it this far, and succeeded so well, what else would she be qualified to do?
You might know someone like Jennifer, a top performer that looks incredible on paper, but doesn’t feel at all fulfilled. Jennifer values Significance and Growth over the other four needs; they are her driving forces. Her need to feel important and look brilliant have led her down a career path that has led to much success, but has prevented her from answering the questions that are critical to finding fulfillment: What contribution do I want to make in this world? To what can I devote my life? The gift and curse of incredible ability, combined with endless options, have resulted in Jennifer following a career path where she never has had to ask herself the all-important questions in life. Although she may have moments where she hears a whisper of her true life calling, Jennifer ignores it because her need to feel significant has led her to a career that provides constant forward growth and validation, while keeping her trapped at the same time.
So What Can We Do?
The important thing to realize is that through deep self-analysis and coaching, we can identify our driving force, and actually begin to change which of the six needs we value the most. However, this is not done easily. If it were simple, we could all decide to value Growth and Contribution over everything else today, and find our true calling tomorrow. It often requires someone outside of yourself to show you the effects of your current driving force, and even explain what the future will look like, if you continue down the path you are on. But even that is not enough to create long-lasting change. Changing human behavior requires leverage. You have to figure out what means more to you than anything else, and that is a question that requires great courage to answer. However, if you can change which needs you value the most, you can find everything you ever dreamed of in a career, including long-lasting fulfillment, and dare I say, joy!
If you want to apply this information to your life, here are four steps to get started:
- Start by reading a bit more about the six human needs. You can start by reading about Human Needs Psychology at CookTalkLove and then watch Tony Robbin’s TED Talk, Why We Do What We Do.
- Think about the six needs as they apply to you, and determine which two needs you value the most. You can work with a coach trained in Strategic Intervention such as myself, or get honest with yourself and figure it out through self-analysis.
- Evaluate how your driving force (your top two needs) has influenced your past career choices, and imagine all the ways it could effect your future career decisions. Determine what your career will look like in ten years if you continue down the path you are on.
- Consider how you could meet your need for Growth and Contribution through your job, for it is through these two needs that the path to fulfillment begins. Start by committing to answering this question, no matter how long it takes: When I look back at my life when I’m old and grey, what contribution do I want to have made to the world?
In the comments section, tell me what your top two needs are and how they have effected your career decisions in the past. Then tell me the one action you are committed to taking towards meeting your needs in a more empowering way at your job this week.