Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Revisited

Maslows_Hierarchy_of_Human_NeedsA thought occurred to me this past weekend regarding needs and wants.

For those of you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Maslow suggests that once our basic human needs are fulfilled then we move on to more advanced needs. First, our physiological space must be stable; we trust where we are, and we develop capabilities such as what we can do, what else is possible, and what tools we can learn to use. Then we have a need for safety in our environment as we do what we do and eventually we see the need for Love and Values (our family structure, peers, religion and belief structure). After we fulfill those needs, we need self-esteem; our Identity (who we are, stretching our limits and creating in our own way). Finally we need Self-Actualization or spirituality (this encompasses community-outreach, unity, becoming-one, supporting others). As each level becomes stronger the level above it becomes stronger.

While I’m not here to argue with Maslow, I do have an issue with how we perceive needs verses wants and the effect it could have on our way of life.

According to the following internet article, “When it comes to owning or acquiring certain things, people would often use the terms ‘want’ and ‘need’ interchangeably. In many cases, the manner in which people would use these two terms can lead one to perceive that these two have similar meanings, if not mean absolutely just the same thing. But actually, these two economic terminologies are very different from each other.”   The writer goes on to say: “The grey area between these two, is when the desire to obtain a particular thing is so extremely great, that a person may misinterpret a want, and see it more as a need. In order to know whether what you desire for is a want or a need is to basically ask one fundamental question: “Have you been able to survive without this?” If your answer is ‘yes’, then what you desire for is a want, no matter how much you crave for it right now.”

Read more: Difference Between a Want and a Need

Let’s consider how language affects our lives. The way we use words affects the way we perceive things around us; words carry a meaning depending on their use; in essence, words are equivocal (they can have more than one meaning), not univocal. Here I suggest an alternative way to consider Maslow’s paradigm.

The word “need” as defined by an online dictionary means: “A condition or situation in which something must be supplied in order for a certain condition to be maintained or a desired state to be achieved.”   The implied connotation is that the person with the need has an expectation of being supplied by it, thus the person is moving away from performing the act that would fulfill the desire, hoping instead to have the desire fulfilled by some other means.

The word “want” as defined by the same dictionary means: “To have a strong feeling to have (something); wish (to possess or do something); desire greatly.”   In this case, there is an implication that the person who wants something is moving toward achieving it by some means.

Certainly, if I “need” a vacation, I am basically working day in and day out considering my plight and wondering if there ever will be a day that I can get away.  When I “want” that vacation, I will begin planning, saving for it, setting a date, buying the tickets, and so on.  In essence, I am moving toward the actual trip. If I “need” to get up and exercise, I may sit in my chair and watch “Biggest Loser” while snacking on my favorite desert.  When I “want” to get up and exercise, I will physically arise from my seat and begin the process.  This scenario plays itself out over and over with the difference being use of the word “want” verses the word “need.”

With this in mind, we now look at Maslow’s Hierarchy with a different perspective.  A person who wants to have his/her physiological desires met will move toward that end, then move on to their safety wants, and ultimately to actualization.  What would that do to our way of life?  What differences would we see in our town, in this country, in this world, if we began to work toward what we wanted instead of talking about how to get our needs met?

I propose we teach Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wants.