What Is a Need?


A need is a feeling of dissatisfaction at a certain point in time and in a given context. It is distinct from a want, which is a desire, wish or aspiration. Needs are a subject of interest in many fields, including philosophy, biology, psychology, social science, economics and marketing.

A person’s basic needs are food, water and shelter. Other essential needs include the ability to think, move and communicate. People can also have a sense of self-importance or a need for accomplishment. In addition, people can have emotional and spiritual needs. The concept of need is discussed in fields such as moral economics and human rights.

The term need is also used to describe a societal demand. For example, a community may need additional police officers or schools. In business, a company might need more inventory or customers. A company’s needs can change over time, and they can be affected by events or trends in the economy.

Often, the word need is used interchangeably with the phrase want. However, it can be important to distinguish between the two, particularly when planning a budget or making purchases. Needs are necessities, while wants are items that could be purchased at a later date or that you could live without. For example, you need to eat and sleep, but you could probably live without buying designer clothes.

In a conversation, the word need can be used to convey that an item or action is not necessary in order to achieve a desired goal. This can be useful for avoiding waste and overspending, or it can be helpful to clarify expectations between partners in a relationship.

You can identify your personal needs by creating a list of all the things that bring you joy and make you feel successful or fulfilled. Once you’ve finished, create a plan to achieve each need on the list. For example, if you have the need to learn a new skill, you can take steps to sign up for a cooking class or start painting.

A number of theories of need have emerged over the years. One of the most popular is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which outlines a series of levels that an individual can move through to feel satisfied. Another theory is the capability approach, which focuses on internal assets or capacities rather than external resources, and suggests that individuals who have more capabilities can fulfill more of their needs. For example, a person with higher levels of education and physical strength can more easily meet their needs than someone who has lower levels of these assets.