Exploring the Essential Human Needs for Fulfillment and Success

Humans need fulfillment and success in life to truly be content. Understanding our human needs is a key factor in achieving this. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides insight into how physiological, safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization play an important role in our overall sensations of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Further research on human needs has broken them down into six categories – certainty, variety, significance, love and connection, growth, and contribution – with each playing an important role in realizing our potential. Additionally, the seven fundamental human needs are safety/security, understanding, connection and acceptance, contribution/participation, esteem and identity, self-determination, and self-actualization/transcendence, which all contribute to the greater mental, emotional, and psychological review and physical and social well-being when met.

This article explores how these essential human needs can be achieved and fulfilled, leading to personal development and success.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, also known as Maslow’s needs theory, is a hierarchical model that outlines the basic human needs necessary for achieving self-actualization and personal growth. This hierarchy consists of physiological, safety and security, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs, which must be met as individuals progress through different stages in their lives.

According to Maslow’s theory, life experiences can cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy, with needs taking precedence over others at different times. In understanding what motivates human behavior and why some individuals succeed while others do not, Maslow’s pyramid provides a comprehensive view of human motivation based on people seeking satisfaction and change through personal growth.

Physiological Needs

At the bottom layer, or the most important level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are Physiological needs. These include the bare necessities needed for survival, such as air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, and sleep. Physiological needs are instinctual to both animals and humans, as all living organisms require these elements to sustain life.

Self-fulfillment is only achieved when all of these basic physiological and psychological needs are met. Failing to meet deficiency needs can lead to physical health issues, emotional distress, mental illness, and social influence.

It is essential that the lower levels of the hierarchy be attended to before one can move on to higher needs.

Safety and Security

Safety and security are the second layers of Maslow’s hierarchy. The need for safety and job security is crucial. This includes protection from violence, and theft, emotional stability and well-being, financial and job security, and health insurance. People satisfy this need through behaviors such as doing the work that is needed, paying bills, securing a roof above their heads, staying safe in endeavors and relationships, and various other activities that make them feel secure financially and physically.

Meeting this need is essential for survival, yet it should be balanced with satisfying the other four needs in order to reach self-actualization. An employee may select a job based on its ability to provide them with financial security and career security while also recognizing the importance of selecting a job that provides adequate compensation, meaningful opportunities, and career advancement.

Furthermore, items such as transitional housing programs provide safety, support, and stability to those in need, consequently meeting safety needs.

Love and Belonging

Love and belonging are the third layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and represent the human need for connection and acceptance with social animals. Humans have a natural desire to form lasting relationships with social animals that offer kinship, companionship, trust, support, and security. When babies are born, they rely entirely on their mother’s understanding of their immediate needs, such as food and comfort.

A strong bond between the baby and their mother attends to the need to form close relationships which satisfy both parties. To fulfill this need, people draw attention to themselves not just through their Solar Plexus[1] but also via their hearts. By developing good relationships, it is possible to create a strong and quality relationship with a significant other, friends, and family and overall build a supportive and stable social network.


Esteem, the fourth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, addresses feelings of respect and worth within oneself gained from recognition, achievement, and consistency. Esteem needs can be broken down into two parts; respect for others and respect for oneself.

Self-esteem needs are an imperative part of a person’s life, as people need to feel appreciated, accepted, and respected by those around them. However, if self-esteem needs are not fulfilled, individuals can develop a feeling of inferiority, weakness, helplessness, and hopelessness.

For self-actualize, esteem needs are transformed into a higher, more sophisticated form of creativity, morality, and objectivity. Competence, privacy, and reality perception become fundamental components of their esteem and self-actualization needs. Self-esteem is also closely related to self-determination and freedom, thus emphasizing the need for individuals to have autonomy and control over the course of their own lives.

Ultimately, having a sense of internal acknowledgment is key to fulfilling the need for recognition.

The Six Human Needs

Humans have many needs that drive their behavior and shape their lives. The Six Human Needs Model is a framework for understanding these needs and how they compare to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This model identifies six core needs: certainty, variety, significance, love/connection, growth, and contribution. By recognizing these fundamental human needs, we can better understand our own motivations and strive toward self-actualization. Metaphors, similes, personification, and alliteration are just some of the stylistic devices used to illustrate this concept in literature.

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Certainty is the need for security and control, which we seek in order to feel safe from harm. Without satisfying this need, humans can become helpless and dissatisfied, as they are unable to adequately protect themselves. In order to fulfill this need, humans must identify what they can depend on in life.

According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s three essential needs for mental health, autonomy, relatedness, and competence, people must be able to trust in external forces like their environment and internal forces such as their moral compass. They must also recognize that certainty is something that changes over time, as unexpected and uncontrollable events will always arise.

Knowing that change is constant and accepting this uncertain and fragile existence can help us better manage feelings of insecurity, worry, and stress. This does not mean that we must accept all forms of uncertainty but rather acknowledge it, learn to adapt and cope, and ultimately draw strength from having faith in life’s unpredictability.


Variety relates to the range of different experiences, ideas, and perspectives that we can encounter in life. It is important because it allows us to explore new possibilities and gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. To practice variety, we must find a balance between certainty and regulations, processes, norms, and rules. Stepping out of our comfort zone can be beneficial as it encourages us to discover more about ourselves while also exploring the world around us. By using metaphors, similes, personification, or alliteration in our writing or speech, we can add an extra layer of variety which will help make our words more interesting for others to hear or read.



Significance is different from esteem and involves feeling important and having a purpose, a sense of meaning, and value in life. According to Daniel Pink’s key motivators in his book, Drive, feelings of importance with an influence on how we feel significant as we live our lives significantly affect our sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, needing affirmation from others to feel valued can leave us feeling empty and dependent.

Meeting the need for significance requires internal acknowledgment first and foremost and means trusting ourselves and following our own path of integrity and expression in the world. Fuelling this need might require going against conventional expectations, such as chasing one’s passions or involving oneself in meaningful pursuits outside of ordinary life, surrounding oneself with uplifting people, and participating in activities you enjoy.

However, this desire can be taken to unhealthy extremes if care is not taken – no amount of external validation can compare to the contentment, peace, and joy that come as a result of internal fulfillment.

Love and Connection

Love and connection refer to the need for emotional relationships with other people. This need encompasses positive and secure relationships with family, friends, and wider social circles. Love is a behavior that signifies mutual acceptance through committing to closeness, affection, and tolerance. Being able to accept, understand, validate, and relate to oneself and others is a vital skill for caring relationships.

Another factor that makes up a successful relationship is familiarity, where people share common interests and experiences that naturally create a feeling of connectedness. Stronger relationships provide one with assurance and comfort, which proves beneficial to mental well-being.

Here, we are presented with two types of identity needs – self-identity and social psychology and identity. Self-identity is how much one values themselves and how one fits into society, while social identity is the extent to which we develop relationships and belong to a community or family (chosen or genetic). Fulfilling these needs can make someone feel secure, wanted, and accepted.


Growth involves the development of an individual’s potential and capabilities, which is a fundamental part of human nature. Max Neef’s model categorizes nine real fundamental needs that humans have: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. This differs from Maslow’s model in that there is no equivalence theory when it comes to needs theories; instead, one must combine different elements of the two models to fulfill the human need for growth and self-fulfillment.

In order to progress towards this goal, it is important to embrace current circumstances while preparing for the future. However, caution should be taken when reaching beyond one’s limitations, as patience and hard work are necessary for progress to take place. Ultimately by combining different elements of theories such as Neef’s and Maslow’s, we can strive towards achieving our goals through growth and self-fulfillment.


A contribution is an act of giving, whether it be time, energy, or resources. It is an essential part of life that adds meaning and purpose to our existence. According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a contribution can take many forms, such as volunteering in the community, helping a friend in need, or donating money to charity.

The benefits of contributing to the community are immense; not only does it help those around us, but it also helps us by providing a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Focusing less on what we receive in return for our contributions makes our lives richer because we become more aware of how much we have been given and how much we can give back.

Recognizing and fulfilling the need for contribution is essential to living a fulfilling life because it allows us to connect with others on a deeper level while simultaneously making an impact on society at large. Through meaningful acts like these, we can create lasting change that will benefit generations to come.

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Growth Needs vs. Deficiency Needs

When discussing basic psychological needs, there is a distinction made between growth needs and deficiency needs. Growth needs are those that allow us to foster positive human capacities and become self-actualized. Alternatively, deficiency needs are those necessary for physical human survival itself, such as food, shelter, and safety. Deficiency needs must be met on a basic level to ensure health and stability, and any remaining energy can then be devoted to growth needs. Examples of growth needs include being able to feel contentment, understanding one’s purpose in life, exploring relationships, developing skills and talents, and fulfilling potential.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs outlines five levels of needs, beginning with the most basic physiological needs, such as food and shelter, then gradually progressing up to safety, love, esteem, and finally, self-actualization. Maslow’s theory proposes that a third level of need must be fulfilled before the next and third levels of need can be addressed, creating an ascending order from bottom to top.

However, not everyone agrees with Maslow’s ordering of needs, including Manuel Marquez Max-Neef. The Argentine economist proposed that humans possess numerous pangs of hunger, and each is of equal importance. He argued that it could differ among humans, negating the necessity of a hierarchal ordering of needs. This means that while we may possess all the same basic needs, they are not satisfied in the same way or in the same order by different individuals.


Max-Neef’s view includes introducing virtues as motivators for human behavior, which further distances it from Maslow’s theory. These virtues are interrelated with basic needs but cannot be seen as interchangeable for subcategories within needs. For example, courage could be related to a basic need for security, but security itself is more profoundly related to aspects of the order of physical integrity, whereas courage may also entail other elements, such as passion and commitment. The value of this approach lies in its emphasis on perspectivism, showing that many aspects must be taken into account when looking at motivation, behavior, and the causes of a person’s life experiences.

It is important to note that for a need to be fulfilled, there must be enough resources allocated for it; if there is an insufficient supply, that need will remain unsatisfied. There are advantages to utilizing Max-Neef’s view of needs because it focuses on analyzing motivations, feelings, and behaviors rather than material goods. In exchanging affective values with material values, it facilitates a shift in focus from a quantitative to a qualitative one. This has implications for practitioners and theorists alike, allowing them to apply different approaches to understanding human behavior.

No Equivalence Theory Like Needs Theory

The no-equivalence theory highlights that the relationship between needs is nonlinear, meaning that the satisfaction of one dimension does not necessarily result in the satisfaction of another. In other words, Max-Neef proposed that different needs influence our lives at different stages; for young children, for example, basic physiological needs take precedence over social needs, whereas in adulthood, social needs often rise in importance to meet domestic and environmental requirements.

As people mature, their needs may change in both form and content, demonstrating how needs can take different meanings at different times. Moreover, this theory illuminates the impact that cultural differences can have on needs fulfillment. Domestic violence, for instance, may hinder a person’s ability to self-actualize their safety needs, violating the proposed linear satisfaction needed to achieve higher-level safety needs.

Influential Theory

Building on this concept, Abraham Maslow developed the influential theory-the pyramid of seven fundamental human needs. Unlike Maslow’s hierarchical model, where the satisfaction of each need progresses from one up to the next on the pyramid, the influential model suggests that all human needs should be considered to create a coordinated system. The seven fundamental human needs are safety/security and survival, understanding, connection and acceptance, contribution/participation, esteem and identity, self-determination (autonomy), freedom, justice and self-actualization, and self-transcendence. Each need is interconnected with the other six, forming a complex pyramid system not unlike the law of thermodynamics.

For example, a need for safety/survival may lead to a need for security and, in turn to a need for self-esteem, and so forth. Different people may express the need for growth differently; for some, creativity may be a driving force, and for others, ambition or creativity. As needs move up the pyramid, it becomes increasingly difficult to fulfill them. Respect may involve compromising ourselves in line with our values and ethical standards and pursuing activities that contribute to the greater good.

No matter the difficulty level, however, these growth needs are essential to living a meaningful and healthy life. Understanding the distinction between growth needs and deficiency needs allows us to identify and prioritize our most pressing needs. Some needs may be more important and relevant than others in certain stages of life, making it necessary to constantly adjust our attention accordingly. Fulfilling basic needs is the foundation for well-being and success, helping to motivate and inspire us to reach for growth needs and, ultimately, our full potential.

The 7 Fundamental Human Needs

Human needs are essential for fulfillment and success in life. Through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which ranks basic human needs in order of importance, these needs are organized as physiological needs, safety/security, love and belonging, esteem, understanding, connection and acceptance, contribution/participation, and self-actualization and self-transcendence.

Though individuals must first satisfy the lower level needs, ultimately, all seven need to be met in order for a person to experience true fulfillment and success.

Safety/Security and Survival

Safety and security are arguably essential fundamentals of human beings’ needs. Without being able to access resources to fulfill basic, such as food, clothing, and housing, as well as financial security, it is impossible for human beings to move on to satisfying their higher or more complex needs.

For example, paying bills, having insurance, and having control over the physical environment all serve to provide a sense of safety, allowing individuals to attend to other needs such as learning. Recognizing that such needs are necessary even before asking more questions about the purpose of life is central to understanding them, taking the focus away from the center stage of the hierarchy of needs.


The need for understanding, growth, knowledge, and problem-solving all fall within this category. Meeting these needs can open up possibilities that, if fulfilled, may provide an individual with a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction in life.

Gaining knowledge through education, apprenticeships, mentorship, and experiences provide people with insight into what is real, identifying and then applying new ideas, developing skills, or participating in activities, depending on individual capabilities. In other words, it is important for one to acquire an understanding of the world and then apply it to actively recognize the opportunities for growth that exist.

Connection and Acceptance

Connection and acceptance is also fundamental human need, one that often gets overlooked in favor of individualism or independence. Connection and acceptance do not necessarily preclude independence; instead, interacting with and having strong relationships with others helps develop confidence and often prompts respect from others.

Unconditional love further supports the need for connection and acceptance by helping forge healthy relationships with friends, family, and social groups. Such social ties can become very valuable when attempting to meet other needs.


Contributing to others and the world around us is the greatest expression of a human being in need; when achieved, it provides a sense of meaning and fulfillment, balancing the forces of variety (having novelty and excitement) and certainty (having something dependable no matter what).

Participating in activities such as engaging in meaningful work, pursuing hobbies, taking classes, working with vulnerable populations, and other volunteering opportunities, among many others, can help individuals reach the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Esteem and Identity

The fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is devoted to self-esteem and personal identity. These needs are focused on feeling acknowledged, accepted, valued, and appreciated by society at large and by peers, as well as having a sense of self-respect and pride in oneself.

This includes our need for recognition, status, and prestige, as well as power and faith in one’s own abilities, accomplishments, achievements, and body image. Having an understanding of self beyond the satisfaction of basic physiological needs is key, and developing good relationships with others serves to reinforce these inner needs.

Self-Determination (Autonomy), Freedom, and Justice

Self-determination, autonomy, freedom, and justice are all fundamental human needs related to living a self-directed life. Human motivation, emotion, and behavior are deeply rooted in our capacity to understand our own capabilities and direct the affairs of our own life.

Satisfying our need for freedom involves breaking away from external rules, regulations, and expectations in order to reach for greater potential. Seeking justice for ourselves, as well as for others in our community, therefore, takes center stage when it comes to an understanding of our need as individuals to make decisions and take action in accordance with our values.

Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence

Self-actualization is arguably the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, reached only when growth needs have been reasonably satisfied. To reach this level, individuals are motivated by exploiting talents, capabilities, and potentialities to the fullest extent, reaching one’s fullest potential no matter one’s position in human life itself. It requires a conscious decision to forego immediate gratification in exchange for long-term meaning and fulfillment.

Self-actualizes also tend to establish deep relationships, be creative, independent, spontaneous, and have a grasp of the real world. Finally, self-transcendence involves connecting with something higher and outside of oneself, from serving a cause larger than one’s self to attaining spiritual enlightenment.

All in all, fulfilling these fundamental needs leads to a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of fulfillment for those who put in the hard work required to fulfill these basic needs.

What Happens When the Fundamental Needs are Not Being Met?

When fundamental human needs are not being met, individuals may experience negative impacts on physical, emotional, mental, and social health. Physical health can be directly affected by the lack of meeting physiological needs; food or water, inadequate clothing, and insufficient rest can all lead to physical illness.

Emotional health is demonstrably connected to life satisfaction, which relies on meeting esteem needs and personal growth needs such as self-actualization and self-transcendence. Mental health can suffer because of an unfulfilled need for safety and security, understanding, connection and acceptance, and growth. When these needs are not met, individuals are more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, depression, or disordered eating.

Lastly, individuals faced with unmet social needs will struggle to build social networks, isolating themselves out of fear that their deficiencies will be uncovered; this could lead to a deterioration of both psychological and physical health, putting them at even greater risk of further issues.

Physical Health

Not meeting one’s basic physiological needs can result in significant physical health risks and problems. These needs include food and water, clothing, shelter, and rest. When these needs are not adequately provided, a person’s physical health may start to suffer and could often require medical attention.

Other physical health outcomes from failing to meet the most basic of needs may include weight changes, headaches, frequent illnesses, and low energy levels. Satisfying these needs allows a person to experience optimal physical health and well-being while failing to do so can create long-term adverse effects on a human’s overall physical health and prowess.

Emotional Health

Unmet needs can also have an extensive impact on someone’s emotional and mental health. For example, esteem needs are greatly important for improving life satisfaction, which, when higher, may provide a sense of empowerment and acceptance in the life of an individual. Human beings strive to feel accepted by those around them, and having a sense of belonging with others provides comfort essential to maintaining emotional balance.

Additionally, growth needs allow individuals to work towards accomplishments that bring meaning and worth to life. When not meeting these needs, a person may become depressed and stuck in feelings of hopelessness, increasing the risk factors for mental health disorders.

It is crucial to recognize and satisfy these needs in order to personally achieve good emotional health and well-being.

Mental Health

Mental health may be adversely affected when needs remain unfulfilled. Depression, anxiety, and disordered eating can all result from the distress caused to neural pathways due to neglected requirements. To combat this, it is important for individuals to understand their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, final thoughts, and experiences in order to free themselves from oppressive fears.

By doing so, they can take a proactive stance in managing their mental health for the ultimate betterment of themselves, a metaphor for taking control of one’s life with similes that liken it to sailing on an uncharted sea or climbing an unknown mountain peak personified by its challenges and rewards. Alliteration emphasizes the importance of understanding oneself as a means of achieving greater well-being.

Social Health

The absence of fundamental needs is like a gaping hole in the soul, leaving one feeling empty and hollow. Without these essential requirements being met, it can be difficult to reach one’s fullest social potential while remaining emotionally and mentally stable. The consequences of this deprivation are far-reaching, from feelings of loneliness and despair to an inability to cope with everyday life. Satisfying our basic psychological needs is paramount for achieving true contentment and harmony within ourselves.


Ultimately, our needs form the blueprint of a meaningful life, providing motivation and direction for further growth. Meeting our fundamental needs is essential for achieving true fulfillment, but unfortunately, this isn’t always easy in a world that often undermines basic human needs with materialistic desires.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, The Six Human Needs Model, Growth Needs vs. Deficiency Needs, and Max-Neef’s no equivalence theory suggest that satisfaction of one need won’t necessarily lead to the satisfaction of another and emphasize the importance of understanding and fulfilling individual needs.

These theories emphasize the significance of difference when it comes to human needs, offering insight into how one can meet their individual needs through different combinations of physiological (survival), safety and security, love and belonging, esteem, understanding, connection and acceptance, contribution/participation, and self-actualization and self-transcendence.

By recognizing and addressing our fundamental needs, we can create conditions where true success and growth are possible. Understanding the many dimensions of basic human needs is paramount for leading a fulfilling life and partaking in meaningful relationships with others; failure to do so can result in physical, emotional, mental, and social health disruptions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by basic human needs?

Basic human needs refer to the necessary requirements for long-term health and well-being. These include food, water, clothing, sleep, and shelter, and generally speaking, without them, it’s difficult to sustain or, at one point, even reach one’s full potential again.

All humans deserve adequate access to these basic resources for a chance at a better life.

What is meant by basic human needs in nursing?

Basic human needs in nursing refer to the essential components of the human body necessary for survival, such as food, water, oxygen, elimination, clothing, and shelter. Nursing professionals strive to provide these necessities to ensure that adults, children, and vulnerable populations receive basic levels of care to meet their physical and psychological needs.

What are the seven basic needs?

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human beings have seven basic needs: physiological (food, water, clothing, shelter), safety (security, order, law), love and belonging (friendship, family, community), esteem (achievement, status, respect), self-actualization (realizing potential, self-fulfillment), cognitive (knowledge, understanding) and aesthetic (appreciation of beauty).

These needs form the foundation for mental and physical health care.

What is the basic level of human needs?

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs outlines five basic human needs, ranked from most basic and essential to most complex: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Satisfying these needs determines an individual’s overall level of psychological health.

What is the meaning of human needs?

Human needs refer to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual necessities that are essential for human survival, development, and well-being. These needs range from basic requirements such as food, water, and shelter to more complex needs such as self-fulfillment and connection to other people.

Ultimately, satisfying these needs is key to living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

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