What Is a Need?


A need is a requirement for something. For example, you need food to survive, and you need water to stay hydrated. You also need air to breathe, and you need shelter to protect yourself from the elements.

There are many different definitions of need, but most psychologists agree that needs are essential for survival and well-being. Some of the most common needs include food, water, sleep, and safety. People who do not meet these basic needs are likely to suffer from physical and psychological problems.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, our most basic physiological and safety needs must be met before we can move on to more psychological or social needs like belonging and self-esteem. He believed that people spend most of their time and energy attempting to satisfy these lower order needs before the higher level needs like love and self-actualization can be fulfilled.

The difference between a need and a want can sometimes be confusing. For example, you need water to survive but you want a cold drink. While needs are static (they do not change over time), wants can fluctuate. You need to eat, but you may not necessarily want a cheeseburger.

You should strive to fulfill your needs before you meet your wants. However, if you have limited resources, this might be impossible. To determine your needs, you can create a list of experiences that make you happy and then select the top four personal needs from this list. This will help you prioritize your life and make better decisions.

Another way to understand needs is through the lens of a hierarchy of human motivation. The hierarchy of human needs, proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, outlines the stages of human motivation from lower order, deficiency needs such as food and water through to higher order, esteem and self-actualization needs.

The word need is used more often than the synonym necessity. The reason is that need evokes feelings of urgency and impetus, while necessity is more formal and impersonal. The word necessity is pronounced with an accent over the first syllable, while need is pronounced with a normal stress pattern. Both words are considered informal by some, but the distinction is important when choosing the right one for a particular context. For example, if you’re writing an article about a government’s need to economize, use the term “need” rather than the more formal “necessity.” The latter may seem too intimidating or imposing. The former, on the other hand, is a more accessible and understandable term for the average person.