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What are the 5 desires?

Desires are the motivations that drive human behavior. There are many theories on human desires, but one framework suggests there are 5 core desires that motivate most people. Understanding these 5 desires can provide insight into what drives your actions and the actions of others.

The 5 Fundamental Human Desires

According to the theory, the 5 fundamental human desires are:

  1. The desire for survival and physical needs
  2. The desire for safety and security
  3. The desire for belonging and love
  4. The desire for esteem and feeling valued
  5. The desire for self-actualization and growth

These 5 desires are arranged in a hierarchy, with more basic needs on the bottom. As each level of needs is satisfied, the next level up becomes more important.

1. The Desire for Survival and Physical Needs

The first and most basic human desire is physical survival. Humans are driven to fulfill basic bodily needs like food, water, shelter, clothing, and sex. Without meeting these fundamental requirements, higher desires become irrelevant.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory argues that physiological requirements form the foundation of human motivation. Food, water, sleep, sex, and other physical needs drive much of human behavior until they are met. A starving person, for example, is unlikely to care much about their relationships or self-esteem until food is secured.

2. The Desire for Safety and Security

Once physical survival is no longer an immediate concern, the need for safety and security becomes a priority. Humans are wired to seek control over their environment and avoid harm. This desire drives people to crave stability, protection, order, and freedom from fear and anxiety.

Safety needs manifest in many ways. People strive for financial security by earning enough money, building savings, and acquiring insurance. They seek emotional and psychological security through supportive relationships. And they work to guarantee their physical safety by avoiding danger and protecting themselves and their loved ones.

3. The Desire for Belonging and Love

With basic physical and safety requirements met, social motivations take priority. Humans have an innate desire to form connections and experience a sense of belonging. The need for positive relationships, intimacy, family, and friendship is deeply ingrained in human nature.

Young children form attachments to caregivers for survival, but social bonds remain crucial throughout life. Loneliness takes a serious toll on mental and physical health. Loving relationships provide comfort, care, and a sense of identity. Most people invest heavily in romantic relationships, parenthood, social groups, and community ties to fulfill their need to belong.

4. The Desire for Esteem and Feeling Valued

Once people feel they belong to a social group and are loved, the desire emerges to feel valued and respected within that group. Humans want to be seen positively and have high self-esteem. They also strive for achievement and mastery as a path to self-worth.

The need for esteem presents in two ways. People want self-esteem stemming from their own competence and recognition of their abilities. And they desire esteem from others in the form of status, attention, recognition, and respect. Gratifying these needs builds confidence and feelings of self-worth.

5. The Desire for Self-Actualization and Growth

At the top of the hierarchy, the need for self-actualization emerges. After satisfying lower desires, humans seek meaning, fulfillment and ongoing personal development. This involves realizing one’s full potential and embracing opportunities for creativity, growth and contribution.

Self-actualization motivates people to pursue purpose and passion, embrace individuality and autonomy, seek inspiration and peak experiences, and advance their understanding. It provides inner motivation to keep developing rather than stagnating when lower needs are met.

How the 5 Desires Influence Behavior

Understanding the 5 fundamental desires provides insight into human motivation and behavior. Here are some examples of how the 5 desires manifest:

Desire Examples of Behavior Driven by This Desire
Survival and physical needs Eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, seeking shelter, sleeping, buying clothing, pursuing sex
Safety and security Locking doors, buying insurance, avoiding dangerous situations, living in low-crime areas, saving money
Belonging and love Initiating friendships, going on dates, getting married, spending time with family, joining groups
Esteem Seeking promotions, showing off accomplishments, pursuing fame, giving to charity for recognition
Self-actualization Taking educational courses, traveling for new experiences, taking up new hobbies, seeking meaning in work

Understanding someone’s dominant desire at any moment provides insight into their motivations and actions. For example, someone focused on self-actualization may seem overly idealistic or impractical to someone focused on safety and security.

Prioritizing and Balancing the 5 Desires

The 5 desires rarely operate independently. Multiple desires influence behavior simultaneously. Priorities between desires shift over time based on which needs are satisfied versus unsatisfied at any moment.

Someone living in poverty or an unsafe environment will prioritize physical security and safety over higher desires like esteem or self-actualization. But someone financially secure who feels loved may focus higher desires over lower ones that are already fulfilled.

Problems arise when desires become imbalanced or people get stuck focusing too heavily on some desires while neglecting others. For example, prioritizing esteem over love may lead to narcissism. Obsessing over self-actualization without basic security can lead to unstable life circumstances.

The healthiest approach is balancing efforts and resources across all 5 desires. For example, someone may spend 8 hours satisfying physical needs through sleep, eating and exercise. They make time for social connections, pursue a hobby for self-actualization, and save some earnings for future safety.

With balance, satisfying one desire shouldn’t undermine others. For example, relationships provide belonging as well as safety rather than compromising other desires.

How Focus Shifts Between the 5 Desires

The 5 fundamental desires shift in priority and intensity throughout a person’s life. Here’s an overview of how focus often progresses between the different desires:


In infancy, the focus is overwhelmingly on physical survival needs. Infants are dependent on caregivers to fulfill needs like food, warmth and comfort. They form attachments to caregivers to get safety and belonging needs met.


In childhood, belonging needs around friendships and esteem needs for approval become stronger. But safety and physiological needs remain essential. Play allows kids to prepare for adult self-actualization through creativity, mastery and experimentation.


During adolescence, esteem needs intensify, especially around peer status and recognition. Romantic relationships and sexual desires also emerge seeking love and belonging. Teens explore meaning and purpose but may lack resources for full self-actualization.

Early Adulthood

In early adulthood, safety and esteem needs around career success often become prominent. People strive for financial independence, stable housing, and fulfilling work opportunities. Romantic relationships provide significant love and belonging.

Middle Adulthood

During middle adulthood, belonging expands to focus on family bonds and close friendships. With safety and esteem needs met, some shift focus to self-actualization desires around personal growth, creativity and contributing to society.

Later Adulthood

As people enter later adulthood, health, financial stability, and close relationships provide safety. With decreased responsibilities, self-actualization and growth needs take center stage for many seeking meaning and enjoyment in this life phase.

But safety and physiological needs may re-emerge as health declines near the end of life.

How Social Needs Interact With the Other Desires

The need for love and belonging interacts uniquely with the other fundamental desires:

  • Physiological needs – Sex and intimacy provide avenues for giving and receiving love and belonging.
  • Safety – Close relationships provide emotional and material support to satisfy safety needs.
  • Esteem – Love relationships and social groups provide external validation and self-worth.
  • Self-actualization – Sharing growth and passion with others brings meaning and enhances self-actualization.

Relationships are a frequent top priority because they simultaneously satisfy multiple desires. Lack of belonging thwarts satisfying higher desires because humans rely on social connections to thrive.

Criticisms and Debates Around the 5 Desires

While the framework of 5 fundamental desires is popular and useful, it has limitations. Critics argue several issues must be considered:

  • Not all human motives fit cleanly into the 5 categories. For example, the need for freedom and autonomy is important but not fully captured.
  • The theory may oversimplify complex human drives. In reality, motives blend together and interact in dynamic ways.
  • The hierarchy of needs isn’t rigid. Self-actualization needs sometimes emerge before more basic needs are fully met.
  • Culture influences which desires are most important. Individualistic Western cultures may prioritize esteem and self-direction more than collectivist cultures.
  • The extent to which desires are innate versus socially influenced is debated. Higher desires like self-actualization may be more shaped by culture.

Overall, the 5 desires present a helpful but imperfect model for understanding fundamental human motivations. Most psychologists agree basic physical and social desires are deeply ingrained. But self-actualization especially reflects unique cultural context and individual values.


The 5 fundamental human desires provide a powerful lens for analyzing human motivation and behavior. Understanding these desires offers insight into the universal needs and wants that drive people.

The 5 desires framework suggests people are motivated to fulfill basic survival requirements, then seek safety, companionship, esteem, and self-actualizing growth. These desires manifest in behaviors aimed at satisfying each need, in order of priority.

This hierarchy isn’t fixed – priorities between desires fluctuate over time and between individuals. But examining how these desires influence you and others can provide meaningful perspective on deep-rooted human motivations.