The Concept of Need

A need is a basic requirement that must be fulfilled for human survival. It is distinct from a want, which is an aspiration or desire. The concept of needs has been studied in various fields including philosophy, biology, psychology, sociology, history and economics.

The most prominent academic model of need was developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943. He suggested that humans have a hierarchy of psychological needs, with lower order ones such as food and shelter being more important than higher order ones such as belonging and self-actualization. People tend to spend most of their time and resources attempting to satisfy their basic needs before they are willing to invest their energies in meeting higher level needs.

In modern times, the concept of need is often discussed in the context of a person’s personal goals and motivations, rather than as a biological imperative. The term is a popular topic of discussion in self-help books and seminars, with the common theme being that a person must find a way to balance their wants and needs in order to be happy.

Despite the fact that the word need has been used since antiquity, it is only in the last century or so that it has been subject to systematic and rigorous study. The most famous academic work in the field is probably Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which received wide acceptance and widespread adoption as a theory about human motivation and well-being.

Another approach to the idea of need is that espoused by psychotherapist Arnold Rosenberg, which involves the development of awareness of feelings as indicators of what needs are alive in one’s present moment. Rosenberg suggests that it is possible to develop strategies to positively meet a need, for example, to fulfill a need for creativity by taking steps to attend a painting class or invest in a music studio.

It is also possible to talk about the needs of a community or organisation, and these are often discussed in terms of a need for financial resources, a need for specific skills, or a need for particular infrastructures such as a new school or health clinic. In this context, the word can be used to express a general sense of dissatisfaction and deprivation in society.

The word need is a semi-modal verb, meaning that it can be used as either a main verb or an adjective. It is often accompanied by other modifiers such as essential, urgent and desirable. For example, the phrase “I need a new apartment” indicates that the individual requires an affordable place to live, while “I need a new apartment with two bedrooms” adds further qualifications such as location and furnishings. Other qualifiers such as luxurious and high-end are sometimes used to describe a need for prestige or status. This can be seen in the use of words such as “a Rolls Royce apartment” to indicate that the apartment is high-end and expensive.