human needs vs wants

This week has been all about human needs vs. wants for me.  Have you noticed that we are in a world of instant gratification?   That we seem to “need” more things than once before?  It’s hard for me to not be direct and maybe even raw about this, because I’m living it right now.  I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one.

Consider instant potatoes as an illustration: rather than going through the process of planting, nurturing, harvesting, and preparing potatoes from scratch, you can now quickly enjoy a satisfactory batch of mashed potatoes in less time than it takes to discuss this topic.  Consequently, we’re drifting farther from the experiences of previous generations, characterized by patience and resilience, as many now lead lives of privilege, marked by a lack of patience, void of compassion or empathy.

In short – and maybe “in short” is an example of instant gratification in itself: there is a difference between NEED and WANT.

With the pace of life getting faster and faster, and more and more choices that can be had more readily, needs and wants are getting mixed up.

Basic Needs

Let’s take this back a little bit.  All humans have basic needs. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human needs form a hierarchy with five levels, in strict order:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love and Belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-Actualization

Fulfilling these needs is crucial for human survival, development, joy, and satisfaction. Failure to meet these needs can lead to repercussions that not only affect individuals but also have broader implications for humanity.


It all starts with basic human physiological needs, including air, water, and food.  These are fundamental to human survival.

A general rule is the “Rule of 3s,” which states that a person can go:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Shelter is another physiological need. Our planet consists of a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, as well as different terrains.

The human body is not designed to withstand extreme environments.  Natural disasters often result in the end of human life if people do not have protection from the elements.

People build shelters, and technology allows us to survive in places where we usually would not. For example, humans can travel in space where there is no oxygen.

Our bodies also need sleep to rest, recharge, and repair themselves. Lack of sleep can lead to physical, emotional, and mental health problems.

In addition, the human race cannot survive without meeting the need for reproduction.  Together, these needs form the basis of life.


The need for Safety is also vital to survival.  There is personal, financial, health and social safety.

This means safe neighborhoods, nourishing food, clean water and air, and a means of economic support.  The long-term consequences of not meeting these needs can result in physical injury and illness.

A study by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute estimates that humans lose 2.2 years of life expectancy because of worldwide pollution.

Modern society is largely based on having a job.  Without the safety of economic support, humans cannot focus on meeting their other needs. Financial safety can be job security or a social safety net like unemployment insurance.

According to a study in the journal Neural Plasticity, unmet safety needs cause many mental health disorders, including anxiety, phobia, depression, and PTSD.

Ensuring one’s health and safety involves several factors. Modern appliances and gadgets undergo rigorous safety testing and come with clear safety warnings. Moreover, it encompasses access to nutritious food, clean water, fresh air, and healthcare services.

Social safety entails the ability to connect with others based on shared needs, interests, and affinities. Given our innate social nature, human beings require interaction and connection with others for holistic well-being.

Love and Belonging

Next up Maslow’s Hierarchy is love and belonging.  Humans are social creatures that need acknowledgment, connection, and support from other humans. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic state that belonging is how humans organize themselves.

A group of people can often meet physiological and safety needs more effectively together than a person alone.  Having social support by belonging to a group reduces stress, which can harm physical, mental, and emotional health.

A study in the journal Science found that lack of human connection, or loneliness, can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), loneliness is associated with increased rates of dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, and anxiety. A study by The University of California Berkley showed that over 60% of American adults identify as being lonely.

Beyond the safety need of knowing other people are available to connect with, belonging needs include the need for relationships, affiliation, connectedness, and group membership.

Humans need more than a passing relationship with other humans. This need begins at birth when we need our parents or caregivers to help us with our physical needs. Once the belonging needs are met for survival, humans also have belonging needs so they can thrive. Humans need relationships ranging from casual to intimate.

We long for and need to feel affiliated and connected with other people and social groups. Group membership provides physical and psychological safety as well.


When the first three levels of needs are met, people can focus on who they are and what type of person they want to be.  Esteem can be defined as feeling confident and emotionally strong as a person. People’s esteem needs include feeling valued and respected by others, but it is not a substitute for self-esteem.  Eleanor Roosevelt said it well: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

When a person doesn’t feel good about themselves, doesn’t like themselves, or doesn’t feel others value them, they risk difficulties in many areas of life.

According to the University of Texas at Austin, when a person’s esteem needs aren’t met, they have a higher risk for: anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression, relationship problems, poor job performance, and alcohol and drug abuse.


Once the first four survival human needs are met, the final human need to thrive is self-actualization, the need to have a purpose in life. Self-actualization is the highest form of fulfillment and satisfaction a person can achieve.

Without self-actualization, a person may feel depressed, worthless, unhappy, or that their life is boring and what they do doesn’t matter.  Self-actualization allows people to live their best life.  That best life comes in many forms.

According to a study by the University of California San Diego, having a sense of purpose improves physical and mental health. Purpose gives a person joy, inspires a sense of gratitude, and helps connect people on a deeper emotional level.

Neglecting to fulfill your human needs can lead to adverse effects on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s essential for individuals to address each level of need in order to progress and attain self-actualization. While some needs, such as physiological and safety needs, are fundamental for survival, others, like those related to belonging and purpose, contribute to thriving and experiencing fulfillment in life.

Back to Human Needs vs. Wants

Humans need a lot for survival: water, food, air, shelter, clothing, healthcare, companionship, love. We want a lot of things that aren’t really necessary: newer car, bigger house, fancier clothes, expensive vacations, toys [boats, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, etc.  Or for me crystals, tarot cards and yarn] It would seem logical that we could be happy if we had all our basic needs, but so often we are not. Even with our needs met, we stress out over our wants.

The truth is, even getting our “wants” will not necessarily make us happy. Think of the misery of some of the wealthiest experience. Whoever said that money cannot buy happiness knew what they were talking about, but not everyone agrees.  Someone said,” Whoever said money can’t buy happiness does not know where to shop.” Another said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it makes sadness easier to bear.”

So, the question to ask ourselves is, “What do I need that I do not have?” If we have sufficient food, clean water, shelter, clothing, and good health then we are better off than most of the world. If we can learn to be content with what we have, we will be much happier than those who desire more and more.

Example of this in action

And that brings us to the Story of The Two Monks.  You may have heard this before, or never.  I like to think of it as the difference between a Need and a Want.

Two monks were traveling together when they came across a river. Standing by the riverbank was a woman who needed to cross but was unable to do so alone because of the strong current. Without hesitation, one of the monks offered to carry her across the river on his back.

After safely reaching the other side, the monks continued on their journey in silence. Several hours passed before the other monk, who had remained silent since the river crossing, spoke up, expressing his disapproval. He reminded his companion that monks were not supposed to have contact with women and questioned why he had broken this rule.

The monk who had carried the woman replied, “I put her down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

Right Now

Back to my living this firsthand right now.  This is my reminder that your needs come first and what others want from comes second.  If any of your basic needs are being threatened, this is the time to put up the protective boundaries.  Yes, we need to help others with their needs, but not at our own expense.   There are times like the Monk who set aside his WANT to honor his vow.  He weighed the options and the NEED to assist her was more important.  I don’t think we teach this enough to people anymore.

Without meeting our fundamental needs, everything else becomes insignificant. Additionally, it’s crucial to show compassion towards others and offer assistance whenever possible.  Remember what is in Principle Seven: We make our own happiness or unhappiness as we obey or disobey Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.  But we cannot forget the principle just before that… We believe that the highest morality is contained in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


Rev. Colleen Irwin
Reverend Colleen Irwin is a Spiritual being having a human experience as a Blogger, Wife, Mother, Mentor, Healer and Public Speaker living in Rochester New York. Colleen, a Natural Born Medium, teaches, lectures and serves Spirit when called upon. She remembers speaking with Spirit as a child and learning how to share this knowledge with others has been an adventure that she captured in her book “Discovering Your Stream”. Colleen has been mentored by Reverend Jack Rudy, and ordained as a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek by the Reverend Dan Chesboro through the Sanctuary of the Beloved. When she is not doing her Spiritual work she is a volunteer docent sharing Susan B. Anthony's history to visitors of the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester. Her trust in Spirit gave her a new title – PREVIVOR. She now uses her platform to educate others about the BRCA genetic mutation and how one can take control of their health and well-being.
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