3 Core Needs Of Every Human Being

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection.” — Johann Hari

“We have to stop being takers and start being caretakers.” — James Cameron


One of our favorite distinctions in life is the difference between “needs” and “wants.”

*”I don’t need another scoop of ice cream, but it sure sounds good.”

*”I don’t need another pair of shoes, but hey! When in Rome.”

*”I don’t really need to check Instagram again, but why not kill a little more time. Maybe I missed something in the last 30 seconds...”

Needs and wants factor into so many aspects of our daily lives and decisions.

Many times we rightly poke fun at our propensity to make the things we “want” turn into the things we “need,” yet I’m becoming more convinced that this is a dangerous switch to make. Needs are infinitely more foundational than wants, and we usually consider them much less consciously. The more we substitute what we want for what we need, the more we create a cycle that usually leads to places we don’t want to be. It’s a trade that is liable to catch up to us in the long-run — whether that be financially, habitually, relationally, or even spiritually.

My hope is through gaining a clearer and more conscious understanding of both our obvious and non-obvious needs in life, we can better differentiate between what we want and what we need. More importantly, we can then begin to live more healthy and fulfilled lives, which allows us to start recognizing the ways we can better provide for the needs of others—one of the most important duties of our shared responsibility as human beings.

But, to begin, we need to define.

Differentiating Needs and Wants

As defined by the dictionary —

  • Needs are: “circumstances in which something is necessary”; “something required because it is essential or very important.”

  • Wants are: “a lack or deficiency of something / a desire for something”; “a desire to possess or do something; wish for.”

From a dictionary standpoint, needs and wants are very comparable. The main difference between the two is that one is required by necessity, and the other is desired to fill something that’s perceived as lacking.

So to put it simply, one is needed in life and one is desired in life. One is proven to be essential to survival, one is considered (in the moment) vital for our best, most optimal survival. One preserves and the other promotes.

Needs and wants can often be synonymous, but without having our needs fulfilled, wants really don’t matter. This is an age-old problem just as much as it is a modern dilemma. With prosperity comes a confusion of what’s really needed in life, and wants begin to encroach upon our perspective of the aspects that really matter, both in our own lives and the lives of others. This produces a mindset that is focused on having more instead of being more. Needs are always connected to our being, wants are connected to our having.

By gaining some clarity around these two ideas, we will better be able to promote human flourishing in our own lives and the lives of those around us. Because clarity always drives competency.

Obvious Basic Needs

When it comes to obvious needs, there are components of life that are non-negotiable to survival:

  1. Food

  2. Water

  3. Oxygen / Breathing

  4. Sleep

Without one of these elements, even for a short period of time, we start creeping perilously close to the end of our human existence on earth. These are the needs that provide and support life itself.

The next tier of obvious, basic needs are:

  1. Shelter

  2. Clothing

  3. Family / Relationships

  4. Means / Provisions (usually through occupation)

Without these additional needs, we as humans, are greatly hindered from operating at a capacity near our potential. Flourishing is greatly hindered when our focus is primarily centered on survival. This second tier of basic needs is what can produce the stability that leads to human progress in our individual lives and in the lives of others.

For most of you reading this post, these first two tiers are largely provided for. There will be some small exceptions to the “means/provisions” and to the relationships component depending on your situation or background, but for the most part, many of us find ourselves just beyond the survival-state of existence due to both tiers of basic needs being met.

This is where the third tier of basic needs come in… and these are what I would call “non-obvious basic needs.”

Non-Obvious Basic Needs

One of the dangers of living in such a prosperous and peaceful nation as America is that we inevitably begin taking what we have for granted, causing us to lose sight of what really matters. Most of us who are under fifty-years-old and have grown up in the U.S. have never experienced what it’s like to be a part of a war that impacts our home-front or the safety and security of our daily lives.

As a result, we end up creating big deals out of small issues, and begin making unimportant things way too important. And, in the process of doing so, we miss out on the importance of the 3rd tier of basic needs that every human being has. These are the non-obvious basic needs because they aren’t as directly correlated to survival, but they are of equal importance in turning mere survival into an existence that promotes and produces good for yourself, each other, and the communities we are a part of.

The three core needs of every human being are: to be 1) seen, 2) heard, and 3) connected.

When you strip away these three things from any human, you begin to push them back into the survival-mode of existence, and many times without even knowing it (or being conscious of it). When a need isn’t even recognized, there is no way for that need to be met—which is why these non-obvious needs can be so lacking in the lives of those around us just as much as in our own.

What They Mean

In order to help provide for the basic need of yourself and others, we have to first gain clarity around what they mean.

So what does it mean to be seen? To be heard? To be connected or attached?

In my opinion, to be seen means to be recognized, acknowledged, and noticed. To be heard means to be given a voice, listened to, and understood. And, to be connected means to be attached to something or someone that is bigger than yourself, a part of something more, something beyond.

While there are many more aspects to these three, this is what I believe lies at the heart of these non-obvious needs in their simplest, most refined form. If we are honest with ourselves, we can each, individually, relate to all three needs. There are so many times when I’ve felt unseen, unheard, or disconnected from anything beyond myself. And each time I find myself in these places it feels like a state where I don’t want to remain for very long. It’s a place of pain, of hurt, of depression and frustration.

They’re called needs for a reason...

Why They Matter

And this is why they matter so much — because when we find ourselves lacking in these three non-obvious needs, we end up beginning a cycle of hurt that compounds the effects of pain we experience in that valley-low, or we end up compromising our own standards, morals, or ethics that make up our character, in order to supplement the lacking needs with the wants of the moment.

This is not an individual “you”-problem, this is the human condition. Being human means being in relation with one another, that is one of the key distinctions between human beings and the animal kingdom. When we stop receiving these core, relational needs, we start digressing into an unhealthy existence. When this is left unchecked, a downward spiral ensues.

As fellow humans, we understand the reality of pain and of suffering. We can readily agree that suffering is not a good thing (albeit the reality that it often produces growth), yet it as inescapable of a reality as the sun rising and falling each day. This is why we must unite around the fact that part of our duty and responsibility in being human is to alleviate the suffering of others.

These three core needs of every human matter because every single human carries within them the power to be a force for change in providing any of these essential elements needed not just for surviving, but for thriving while also promoting a healthy humanity for all.

So, what’s the answer?

The Solution

You are the solution.

Yes, it’s a simple as that. You can be the solution to this escalating problem.

This escalating problem is the number of people that feel unseen, unheard, and disconnected, and it’s growing at a shocking rate. There is little doubt to the compounding effects of 1) technology—which removes much of the human interaction that used to be present in people’s daily lives, and 2) social media—which has created a sense of connection masked behind a curtain of technology that prevents it from being real, physical, tangible, human connection. Add onto this the experience of being inundated with news and issues we can’t possibly impact or solve individually, and we’ve created an environment where we’re overwhelmed with needs, more removed from the meaningful relationships that allow us to meet those needs, and less aware than ever before of the people in our everyday existence that may simply need to be seen, heard, or connected.

The way you can be the solution is by providing one of those three, core needs for the people you interact with on a daily basis. For yourself. For your loved ones, your family, your friends. For your roommates, for your neighbor, for the clerk checking you out at the grocery store. For the person you just ran beside on the jogging trail. For the mailman that is faithfully delivering you letters every day of the week.

What does providing this solution look like?

In its simplest form, it means: just showing up.

The power comes in just showing up for someone else. Showing up means that you are fully engaged and fully present in the person that is occupying the space in time with you this very moment. It means you are conscious of and intentional about seeing them—truly seeing them and how they’re doing; about hearing them—not just distractedly listening but really seeking to understand what they are saying; and about connecting with them on a human level as well as being a connecting force for greater attachment to others and their purpose in the world.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” — Woody Allen

• • • • •

There is a need that you can meet, every single day. Are you willing? Are you up for the task?

The only way we meet any need is if we believe it’s truly worth it. Belief comes at a cost. It costs the action that must be taken, it takes sacrifice to move from agreement to belief, from acknowledgement to conviction, from being involved with something to being committed.

This really matters. This problem will not magically go away or suddenly disappear. It’s time we take ownership of our role and not settle for anything less than faithfully meeting the basic needs of ourselves and of our fellow humanity.

It’s time to just show up.

“What you can be, you must be.” — Abraham H. Maslow


Source Credit for these three core needs goes to Judah Smith from his sermon at Churchome on the cycles of pain - view HERE.