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What are the 5 basic human needs?

All human beings have basic needs that must be met in order for us to survive, thrive and be happy. These basic human needs are essential to our growth, development, and well-being. Understanding what these needs are is important for building strong relationships, communities, and societies.

What are the 5 basic human needs?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified 5 basic human needs in his influential paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in 1943. He presented these needs in the form of a pyramid that has become known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The 5 needs Maslow identified are:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Belongingness needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Self-actualization needs

Let’s look at each of these 5 basic human needs in more detail:

1. Physiological needs

Physiological needs are the most basic human needs required to sustain life. These include:

  • Air – oxygen is required for cellular respiration
  • Water – needed for hydration and cellular processes
  • Food – provides nutrition and energy
  • Sleep – allows the body to rest and repair itself
  • Shelter – protects from the elements and potential harm
  • Clothing – also protects from the elements

If physiological needs are not met, the human body struggles to function and ultimately will shut down and die. Therefore, physiological needs are the most pressing and basic of all human needs.

2. Safety needs

Once physiological needs are met, safety needs take priority. Safety needs include:

  • Personal security
  • Financial security
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Safety against accidents or injury

Humans need to feel safe from threats, including war, violence, disease, and natural disasters. Safety needs also include financial security and freedom from financial threats like poverty and debt. The extent of safety needs met determines whether a person feels secure or anxious and unsafe.

3. Belongingness needs

After physical and safety needs are met, the next level of needs are social and psychological needs. These include the need for:

  • Love and affection
  • Sense of belonging
  • Social acceptance

Humans have an innate need to feel connected to others. We strive for acceptance in our families, friend groups, romantic relationships, schools, workplaces, social groups, neighborhoods, places of worship, and other communities. Belonging gives us an important and meaningful part to play in the social fabric.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs relate to our desire for:

  • Self-esteem and self-respect
  • Confidence
  • Achievement
  • Recognition and respect from others

When esteem needs are satisfied, we have positive self-regard and know our contribution is valued. Unmet esteem needs can lead to low self-esteem and inferiority complexes.

5. Self-actualization needs

This is the highest level need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization is the need to fulfill our personal potential and achieve our higher purpose. It includes:

  • Personal growth and peak experiences
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Creativity and self-expression
  • Authenticity and unity with self

Self-actualization is the drive to always improve, be the best version of ourselves, and have meaningful, enriching experiences. It gives us a sense of meaning and greater life satisfaction.

How are the 5 basic human needs prioritized?

According to Maslow, the lower level needs must be met first before higher level needs become motivating. The levels are ranked in priority order:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Belongingness needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Self-actualization needs

Someone struggling to obtain food and shelter is unlikely to be primarily motivated by the need for self-esteem or self-actualization. But someone financially secure and surrounded by loving relationships can devote themselves fully to personal growth and purpose.

Here is a table summarizing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Level Type of need Examples
1 Physiological needs Food, water, shelter, sleep, air
2 Safety needs Security, stability, freedom from fear
3 Belongingness needs Relationships, groups, family, affection
4 Esteem needs Respect, status, recognition, confidence
5 Self-actualization needs Personal growth, fulfillment, purpose

Why are the 5 basic human needs important?

Understanding the 5 basic human needs is important for several reasons:

  • Personal development – Knowing your needs helps you intentionally meet them for greater fulfillment.
  • Relationships – You can support the needs of others when you understand these needs.
  • Communities – Groups and institutions can be designed to meet human needs.
  • Society – Social policy can be created to ensure people’s needs are met.
  • Needs-based marketing – Products and messaging can be tailored to the needs of consumers.

Psychological researcher Steven Reiss built on Maslow’s work by identifying 16 basic human desires that motivate our behavior and aspirations. A few examples include desires for: power, independence, curiosity, saving, family, status, vengeance. Like Maslow, he found desires become stronger drivers of behavior as more basic needs are met.

Criticisms of the Hierarchy of Needs

While influential and widely used, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has also received critique from other psychologists:

  • The order of needs may not be so strict and sequential in real life.
  • People likely work to satisfy multiple needs simultaneously rather than strictly moving up the hierarchy.
  • Self-actualization is not necessarily the highest need, nor achievable by all.
  • The definition of self-actualization is vague and varies between individuals and cultures.

Additionally, some needs like curiosity may represent both lower level needs (curiosity to reduce uncertainty and increase safety) and higher level needs (curiosity for knowledge and meaning).

How can you meet your 5 basic human needs?

Here are some tips for meeting your own basic human needs in a healthy way:

1. Physiological needs

  • Get sufficient sleep, nutrition, exercise and preventative healthcare.
  • Create structure and routine around meeting health requirements.
  • Make your living environment peaceful and comfortable.

2. Safety needs

  • Build emergency savings and insurance policies.
  • Be aware of threats or hazards and have a disaster preparedness plan.
  • Follow safety rules and learn self-defense techniques if your environment is unsafe.
  • Get help with addictions, abuse or trauma affecting your safety.

3. Belongingness needs

  • Develop trusting, supportive relationships with friends and family.
  • Join groups aligned with your interests or values.
  • Volunteer to feel more connected and valued in your community.
  • If you experience social anxiety, work on communication skills.

4. Esteem needs

  • Identify your skills and develop expertise in valued areas.
  • Pursue meaningful work where you feel appreciated.
  • Practice self-care and gratitude to build confidence.
  • Set goals aligned with your values and celebrate progress.

5. Self-actualization

  • Continually learn and try new experiences for personal growth.
  • Identify your unique talents and create ways to express them.
  • Find work, activities and relationships that provide meaning and purpose.
  • Develop practices like meditation to become more self-aware.


Understanding the 5 basic human needs identified by Abraham Maslow – physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization – provides great insight into human motivation, development, and well-being. While the hierarchy of needs has limitations, it helps illustrate life’s essential requirements we all share as human beings. We can use this understanding to intentionally meet our needs in a balanced, healthy way and design supportive communities and policies.