The six human needs. Psychologist Cloe Madanes has written about how our behaviour is motivated by the fulfilment of six basic human needs that everyone needs to fulfil. These lead to differing actions and can be why we overeat or overspend, take drugs, crave attention …
Knowing about these different needs is useful at all stages in life for both understanding more about the person we are and also in relating with the people we spend time with, both at work and in our wider life. Cloe Madanes says that we make choices based on our top two needs. Here are the six human needs:
1 – The need for certainty
Comfort, security, safety, predictability, feeling grounded
This is the most basic of the 6 human needs – to avoid pain and have some comfort. To have some sense of security and certainty. It can relate to our health and our career. People get certainty in different ways, for some it is to lower expectations, for others it is to have more control, some rely on faith and prayer. For some people it is enough to know they have a place to sleep and to know they won’t be attacked; others only feel certainty when they earn hundreds of thousands of pounds.
With retirement planning, a high need for certainty can be around being clear on our financial resources and to carefully plan for our future. We may want to consider what might go wrong and have things in place for when, for example, our health declines.
2 – The need for variety
Change, chaos, suspense, conflict, crisis
Too much certainty can lead to boredom. Having a daily routine can make us look for change, so, we seek variety to make us feel alive. We can get this from extreme sports, a compulsion for sex, it can be through things such as adventures and new goals. Problems can lead to uncertainty which can test our emotional and physical limits and also meet our need for variety. To what extent do we want variety in our lives?
In retirement a high need for variety can lead to exciting new experiences to make us feel alive. We are open to change and what might be. We see the years ahead as a time for exploration and excitement and any setback as a problem to overcome.
3 – The need for significance
Standards, pride, achievement, competition, rejection
Do we feel needed, wanted, important? We can feel significant when we have status and rate ourselves above others. It may be down to what we have achieved, it could be down to meaningful work. Some people will gain significance through being the worst at something, through failure, or by having low self-esteem. In what way is your life special and how do you meet your need for significance? It could be down to knowledge and knowing more, or working harder or standing out through your clothes and things you own.
If we have gained significance through our work, what happens when we no longer have the status and identity when we leave. For some people significance drops in importance, others will seek to keep it by staying in work or seeking opportunities as a non-executive director or other positions of responsibility. Other people will stand out as significant through their clothing or an unusual hobby.
4 – The need for love and connection
Togetherness, passion, warmth, tenderness, unity
This can be romantic love or the bond between parent and child. It can also be through friendship, nature, pets or with our tribe. Some people will crave attention. In romantic relationships we may realise that we have settled, our relationship is ok, not so bad that we leave and then, at some point, we may realise that it is not enough. One reason many people split in later life. They look ahead and want something more from a partner, or prefer relationships with friends.
Many of the people I work with, approaching retirement, realise that their friendship group is all work colleagues. It is helpful to look wider and develop new friendships, before retirement, and to join groups where we can meet others. It may also be a time to reconnect with family members.
5 – The need for growth
There is a saying: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. We need to continue to develop emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We grow through our experiences, and how we respond to what is happening in the world. Without growth there will be decline. We can grow through challenging ourselves physically, through study, or personal reading. We can grow through new experiences such as travel or a new exercise class.
As we approach retirement, we can consider the areas that will challenge us – physically, spiritually, intellectually and perhaps financially. Having challenges in mind can help with our retirement transition.
6 – The need for contribution
Contributing goes beyond our needs to give to others. Anthony Robbins says, “The secret to living is giving.” We can all contribute – through volunteering, involvement with a cause, sharing knowledge, giving our time, and this gives our life meaning.
This is an important aspect of ageing and having a more meaningful life. You may choose to reflect on how you currently contribute and what are your plans for when you retire?
We need the first four needs: certainty, variety, love and significance for human survival. Growth and contribution are needed for human fulfilment but not everyone seeks them out. If not already important to you, part of the move to the third stage of life could be to focus on our personal growth and how to give back.
According to Madanes, the way to lasting satisfaction and fulfilment is through the last three needs: the need for connection, growth and contribution. A focus on others can mean that our problems seem less significant. Contribution can provide us with variety, gives us significance and provides a sense of connection.
We are not all the same. We have different top values, and different needs. We meet our needs in different ways – How I find e.g., variety will (probably) differ to you.
It’s helpful to understand your top needs, and how are you meeting them.
If you would like to understand how you match against the 6 human needs this test will help. There are 84 questions.
I completed a similar one 5 years ago, before my life changes of divorce, with all that entails, completing two vision quests and gaining my doctorate. What was fascinating to me, coming back to this 5 years later, was how my needs have changed.
Completing this today, my top needs are Growth and Contribution. My lowest are Significance and Certainty. Truly interesting as I move into the role of elder. Last time my top need was for Significance.
Always useful to have a view on where you are today, whatever stage of life, and make a note to complete again in a few years. You could also complete ‘as if’ you were the person you were 5 years ago. I’d love to know what you find out.