The Four Universal Needs of the Human Being

What makes us flourish? As humans, once we satisfy our basic needs such as food, homes, and stable jobs, there are a series of aspirations that we try to achieve. Find out about them here.
The Four Universal Needs of the Human Being
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

There’s a series of universal needs that motivate us to achieve self-realization. Once the basic aspects that guarantee our subsistence are covered, there’s an engine that continues to motivate us. It consists of the desire to continue growing, flourishing, and reaching higher levels of well-being and happiness.

Although Abraham Maslow offered his now classic theory regarding human motivation, a little more progress has now been made in understanding this factor. In fact, psychology has been delving into the area for decades. For instance, we now know that factors such as social connection or having good control over what surrounds us are essential in the goal of achieving fulfillment.

If you’re currently feeling rather lost, this topic will help you.

Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.

~ Abraham Maslow ~

The universal needs that allow us to flourish

To live and develop in harmony and satisfaction, it’s not enough just to cover our basic needs. Once we have security and sustenance, our minds crave more dimensions. It was the greatest exponent of humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslow, who, with his classic studies on the theory of human motivation, pointed out that we’re biologically programmed to continue evolving.

Therefore, once we’ve achieved good physical well-being, we look at the other rung of the pyramid to grow, as human beings, in self-realization. Universal needs are motivational drives that facilitate flourishing and self-development. This is a concept that also interests positive psychology.

The University of California (USA) conducted research in this field. They claim that human flourishing goes beyond possessing good physical and mental health. It implies achieving satisfaction with life and having a purpose, and enjoying good social relationships. These inspiring spheres are summarized in four dimensions, which we’re going to analyze.

1. Meaning or purpose

Knowing what gives us meaning and significance allows us to build more meaningful lives. However, many people navigate their daily lives without clarifying their purposes. This happens because they get carried away by inertia, routine, and even paths dictated by others. Eventually, feelings of discomfort, existential emptiness, and discouragement emerge.

Research conducted by Erasmus University (Netherlands) claims that modern life can be distracting and we need to know how to define our purposes in life. It proposes we reflect on the following areas:

  • Assess what our ideal futures would be like.
  • Discover our values and passions.
  • Think about our present and future social lives.
  • Reflect on what we’re good at.
  • Reflect on our goals for tomorrow.

How can it help you?

Among the universal needs to flourish as human beings, clarifying the meaning of life is essential. It guides every action and decision, like a compass. It reminds you where north is and which paths it’s better to avoid. Without purpose, you feel lost. This affects your mental health.

As human beings, we all need to grow and reach self-realization. It makes us feel proud of who we are and what we have.

2. Need for control

What can we control in our lives? The second universal need is the motivation to control as many aspects of reality as possible. This dimension has been described by the psychologist, Susan Fiske, in her BUC(k)ET needs model, as highlighted in her study published in the journal, Motivated Social Perception.

Happiness starts from this base, from knowing what we can control and what we can’t.

  • We can control our emotions and thoughts.
  • We’re responsible for how we react to things.
  • We control the decisions we make and the paths we choose to travel.
  • We can’t dominate destiny or social events.
  • We’re unable to control the opinions of others.
  • We can’t control what other people do, decide, or think.

How can it help you?

Although you’re aware that, in this life, wanting to control everything causes suffering, you must consider one aspect. Specifying what’s out of your hands, but knowing which areas you do have control over, mediates your feelings of well-being. It prevents you from falling prey to states such as learned helplessness (believing that whatever you do doesn’t change anything).

3. Sense of competence

What are we good at? The third universal need involves the necessity to feel fulfilled, which means enjoying self-efficacy. Taking pride in our worth, talent, and potential doesn’t mean we’re arrogant or narcissistic. In fact, it’s this characteristic that makes us feel valuable, achieve our goals, and grow, both professionally and personally.

This is what we should do if we want to develop a sense of competence.

  • Learn from others and get inspired.
  • Don’t compare ourselves with others.
  • Be proud of what we achieve.
  • Work and train in what we enjoy and are good at.
  • Focus on our talents and set achievable goals.
  • Be constant. Moreover, be aware of our mistakes and work on them.

How can it help you?

A good sense of competence strengthens your self-esteem and the vision you have of yourself. It acts as a catalytic force that allows you to conquer your dreams and build you up as a human being, recognizing that you’re valuable and can achieve what you’ve set out to do.

4. Connection

Emotional connection forms the backbone of our universal needs. It’s the substrate that’s always present at each step of our development and evolution as human beings. After all, we’re social creatures who bond to feel safe, fulfilled, and happy.

Connection means building our own ‘tribes’, networks of people we love and who love us. Knowing how to connect means knowing how relationships work: with care, respect, reciprocity, and good communication. Those who master the art of connection always have time for their friends, partners, children, parents, etc.

How can it help you?

Human connection is the golden thread that builds authentic well-being and daily support. Without this pillar, without this universal need, you feel alone and lost.

Positive and humanistic psychology have always offered resources that enhance our essential capacities for happiness, self-realization, and well-being.

Working on your universal needs mediates your well-being

Abraham Maslow claimed that we possess an instinctive drive to conquer these universal needs. It’s as if there’s a biological mechanism urging us to move from one step to another, within his famous pyramid.

However, not everyone works on achieving these dimensions. If you don’t, feelings of discomfort and frustration will appear, and you’ll start to suffer. Moreover, modern life sometimes takes you away from what you’re yearning for. This might mean you don’t listen to yourself and pay more attention to external noise than to your internal voice.

Therefore, we must all listen to each other more and spend less time running. We must tune in to what’s inside ourselves, and disconnect a little from technology, external pressures, and the demands of others. After all, we’re beings with needs that we must address.

So, if you’re not clarifying your purposes or working on what you can control or your social relationships are deficient, it’s time to make some changes. Your psychological health will thank you.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.