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Have you ever wondered why we do what we do? Humanistic psychology - a branch of psychology that focuses on self-realization and the development of human potential - has developed a series of theories according to which the motivation and meaning of our daily actions are fueled by the need to satisfy a series of needs we are often totally unaware of. Whatever we do - from the simplest daily action such as watching a movie to more serious ones such as deciding to get married or divorced - there is always a reason why we do what we do. The reason is linked to the satisfaction of some needs common to all human beings, namely 6 human needs.

Understanding the 6 human needs that guide and motivate our decisions and actions enables us to understand who we are and who we want to be.

What’s more, by understanding which of the basic human needs are our driving force, we can set goals for ourselves and implement constructive behaviors to help us achieve them.

Understanding which needs we want to meet at any given moment can help us gain self-awareness and create new patterns that lead to lasting fulfillment and happiness.


Tony Robbins at the beach

According to Tony, the 6 human needs influence our deepest motivations and determine how we go about prioritizing our decisions and actions throughout our life.

Robbins believes that the importance attributed to each of them varies from person to person, as well as the means used to satisfy them.

We each have different phases and areas of our life where our focus and prioritized needs may be different.

Each need serves a vital part in creating a life that is whole and fulfilling at all levels.

Let’s take a closer look now at the 6 human needs.

The first 4 human needs are called “Personality Needs”, as they are centered around our individual quest for achievement. 

The remaining 2 needs are defined as “Needs of the Spirit”, as they provide doorways to our deeper sense of true happiness and fulfillment in life – in both physical and non-physical realms.


 Large group of people queuing

The need for safety, security, comfort, order, consistency, and control.

The need for certainty represents the human being's need to feel safe, comfortable, and away from danger and pain.

It is a primordial need that is sensitively linked to our natural survival instinct.

We seek security in the places we go to and people we spend time with (physical security); we seek security to ensure our personal well-being for instance through finding a permanent job (economic security); and we have a strong need for psychological security too.

We often set up routines to satisfy our need for certainty as they activate consolidated mental and behavioral patterns that give us peace of mind and confidence in what will happen.

At the same time, routines can become the main obstacle to our growth.

To grow we need to change, and change requires the ability to face the unknown, the exact opposite of what our habits drive us to do.

Control is one of the most used means to meet the need for certainty.

Trying to control the external environment, people, and situations, with the aim of making things go exactly as expected, requires an enormous expenditure of energy. 

This type of strategy turns out to be unsuccessful from the start.

Bottom Line: we look for things that reassure us and provide us with a feeling of stability: home, the workplace, daily habits, and the family as a protective entity.

Our search for certainty can collide with an excess of security that generates boredom, lack of stimulation, and a sense of emptiness that pushes us to try something new.

It is from this consideration that another fundamental need for human beings arises, i.e. the need for variety.


man walking barefoot on an unbeaten track

The need for uncertainty, diversity, challenge, change, surprise, and adventure.

To tackle the sense of boredom that an excess of certainty generates, we need to change, evolve, be surprised, and to surprise.

The themes of variety and change are more current than ever and no longer do they represent a free choice, but a necessity imposed by modern society.

Accepting change is the key to dealing with it effectively, overcoming that natural resistance that tends to lead us back towards the search for certainty, to gradually transform it into an important opportunity for growth.

To feel alive we need to feel strong emotions, we need to have new experiences.

Satisfying the need for variety makes life much more fun and beautiful.

Bottom Line: certainty alone creates a dangerous monotony. The need for variety is satisfied by changing habits, trying new experiences, new jobs, travels, extreme sports, love betrayals, and changes of all kinds.

In life, our efforts to satisfy the need for variety can be taken to extremes.

While there may be times when feasting at the full buffet of diversity is exactly what we need, over time, satisfying the need for variety by changing our external surroundings can prevent us from fully engaging with life right where we are.


man and woman full of tatoo

The need for meaning, validation, feeling needed, honored, wanted, and special.

The need for significance satisfies the need to feel unique and special, and the means used to satisfy it are heavily conditioned by the reference standards used to evaluate one's own value.

Some individuals focus on making others feel inferior.

Others exhibit a false version of their life, and other wiser ones invest resources and energies to improve themselves and make their contribution to society in a totally disinterested way.

If you had to make a list of the things that make you proud and make you feel important, how many of these would depend on someone else’s approval?

When the need for significance is satisfied through the exposure of titles, material goods, and one's image to attract attention, receive approval or make others feel inferior, there is the risk of developing a narcissistic personality, which can lead to selfishness, vanity, and presumption.

Nowadays there is the phenomenon of digital narcissism, exploited very well by social networks.

The mechanism linked to the number of likes or followers contributes to the construction of an identity on the net that can be very distant from the real one.

This in turn results in generating a poorly integrated personality that feeds itself through a virtual and illusory world.

On the positive side of the spectrum, our need for significance is fulfilled by a humble sense of internal acknowledgment for following our own path of integrity and expression in the world and by doing so in ways that are life-force-giving to ourselves and those around us.

Bottom Line: Significance translates into a desire to be seen, heard, and listened to. In short, we want to be noticed. We measure significance by what we believe makes us unique compared to everyone else around us. Each of us meets the need for significance in different ways - the tendency though is showing off in terms of money, clothes, houses, cars, titles, tattoos, and other elements that allow us to position ourselves with respect to others. Yet, we can also feel important for what we do for others or we can try to destroy what others do in an attempt to feel important.


loving young couple romancing at home

The need for connection, communication, intimacy, and shared love with others.

The need for love or connection represents the motivational lever that drives us to socialize; leads us to search for one or more groups to belong to and for a loved one with whom to share our life goals.

This need is not satisfied only by relating to other people.

It can be satisfied through love for or connection to oneself, to a pet, or to a spiritual entity, using tools such as meditation or prayer.

Bottom Line: we all need to feel loved, to be connected to ourselves and to others - be it friends, family, colleagues, members of a club, or an online community - and to feel affection, warmth, and longing.


silhouette of a person depicting inner power

The need for physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development.

It satisfies the human need to progress, improve, and can embrace different areas, from the intellectual to the emotional and spiritual.

Here are some examples:

  • Physical growth - building a beautiful body,
  • Emotional growth - the awareness of becoming better at managing life situations, emotions, or crucial moments,
  • Career growth - both working, sporting, and entrepreneurial,
  • Social growth - being accepted in environments previously considered to be of a higher level,
  • Intellectual growth - learning about new things, information, skills,
  • Spiritual growth - rising of the consciousness beyond the ordinary, everyday existence, and awakening to some Universal truths. It is a process of inner awakening. It means going beyond the mind and the ego and realizing who we really are.

When we learn something new, we ourselves become something new. 

Thanks to this mechanism, society evolves and scientific and technological discoveries advance at a dizzying pace.

As with all human needs, the need for growth can also be taken to out-of-balance extremes.

Growing and expanding can be so fulfilling in its own right that sometimes our quest to fulfill this need causes us to prevent ourselves from being fully present in life.

What’s worse, it can lead us to put off the implementation of our growth in the world due to fear of not being “ready” or “good enough”. 

On the positive side of the spectrum, fulfilling our need for growth comes with an acceptance that growth is a journey, not a destination.

Consistent growth also means allowing ourselves to be real, to be imperfect, and to find authentic ways to share what we discover and learn with others.

In Tony’s words:

“If you are not growing, you are dying”.

Bottom Line: life is growth and everything you achieve must be cultivated and made to grow otherwise it degenerates. Love in a couple is a very clear example of this. If you don't grow together, you most likely end up separating. Even worse, you stay in a relationship that slowly kills you inside.


man helping poor needed children

The need to give, care, protect beyond ourselves, to serve others and the good of all.

The need to contribute is one of the highest human needs. It feeds on the ability to change perspective and see oneself no longer as an individual, but as part of a whole.

Actively participating and contributing to the well-being of others is the best way to feel fulfilled and happy. 

The moment we become active participants in improving other people’s lives, we automatically raise the quality of our existence.

As Erich Fromm pointed out:

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness”.

When the lives of others improve thanks to our contribution, the payoff in terms of gratification is enormous and helps to satisfy many other needs.

We feel important for what we have done, we acquire security and confidence in our abilities and we become part of something beyond ourselves.

Our need for contribution can be met in a massive variety of ways – from visiting nursing homes to volunteering, from supporting a cause we believe in to simply pausing from our busy schedules or to smiling, hugging, or helping someone in need. 

However, let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of the fact that giving begins at home!

So, let’s avoid neglecting those closest to us in our attempt to make this world a better place.

Bottom Line: contributing is key to experiencing a life of fulfillment.


It is important to remember that needs are not wants.

Desires can vary from person to person.

They can be different depending on the parts of the world we live in and often depending on cultural, social, or value differences.

The 6 human needs instead are common to all mankind and are found, albeit with different levels of importance, in each of us.

Each day we fulfill these needs, however, we all find different ways of satisfying them.

They can be met in ways that are positive and constructive or negative and destructive.

Each of us tends to gravitate towards behaviors that attempt to satisfy two needs that are primary to us. 

I invite you to ask yourself what they are for you. 

Not the ones you would like to fulfill in an ideal life, but the ones that determined the fundamental choices of your life.

To do it, you have to ask yourself some tough questions.

Why did you choose a certain field of study? Why do you keep doing your job even if you don’t like it? Why did you marry your partner? Why do you behave in a certain way and not in another?

I invite you to also examine the 6 human needs and ascertain which of them you value the most and how you go about meeting them.

Living an intentional and purposeful life takes energy, thought, and practice, and understanding these 6 human needs is essential to our success and fulfillment.

More resources for YOU:

Christian Caliendo
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