Discover the 6 human needs

These core needs drive every decision you make

Why do we do the things we do? Why is it that we measure success and value by attention and status, yet frown upon complacency? What force drives and shapes all of our emotions, actions, quality of life and, ultimately, our destinies?

Did you know that the answers to these questions can all be explained by learning about the 6 human needs?

All dysfunctional behaviors arise from the inability to consistently meet these core needs. But people’s needs aren’t just behind the bad decisions we make – they are also behind all of the great things humans accomplish. Understanding your own needs and psychology can not only help you avoid toxic behaviors and habits but can also help you achieve your goals.

How do we develop our core needs?

Each of us is unique and shaped by our individual life events and corresponding emotions. Many of our deepest needs are developed in childhood, when our minds are taking in all the information they can. This information, whether positive or negative, creates our beliefs and values – and those create our entire world. It’s even been proven that stress in childhood has lasting effects on brain chemistry and development.

Each of us prioritizes our needs differently, and our decisions are based on which needs we put first. While the 6 human needs are deep-seated, remember that your past is not your future unless you live there. You can choose to fulfill your needs in a healthy way, as well as bring balance to your life by developing your ability to fulfill all of your needs equally.

What are the 6 human needs?

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

Everyone ranks these human needs differently, and the way they are ranked explain why you are the way you are as a person. The top four needs in the list above shape our personality, while the last two (growth and contribution) shape our spiritual needs. People’s needs can be met in a variety of ways; we seek fulfillment through our relationships, careers, personal interests and more. Here’s more on the basic human needs and what they mean.


If certainty is one of your core needs, you need to feel secure and safe about the future. When you receive positive recognition, it may be accompanied by a need for certainty that the recognition is authentic and will continue. In order to live a life filled with certainty, your life has to stay the same – a nearly impossible expectation to fulfill. So, you artificially control your environment by changing your expectations or by avoiding new situations or people. This process provides you with assurance that your actions will either avoid pain or gain pleasure, which then fulfills the basic human need for certainty.

How to tell if certainty is one of your core needs: You are trustworthy and always do what you say you’ll do. You enjoy planning, thrive on a schedule and are very organized. You’re hesitant to take risks and have new experiences. You may fall into addictive or obsessive behaviors.

How to fulfill a need for certainty: Find activities that you enjoy, but that also push you slightly out of your comfort zone. Incorporate healthy and empowering routines into your life. Give back to others to promote growth and contribution in a consistent way.


Though it’s important to understand the beauty of uncertainty, those who experience this as one of their top basic human needs can take it to an extreme. They engage in frequent job or relationship changes for the sake of variety, or take unnecessary risks to achieve the adrenaline jolt they crave. However, if uncertainty is one of your top 6 human needs, you will be unafraid of taking risks and will not avoid new situations or people.

How to tell if variety is one of your core needs: You’re generally outgoing and like meeting new people. You’re always willing to do something new and have many interests. You can be unfocused and lack planning skills, and perhaps push people away in relationships.

How to fulfill a need for variety: Feed your mind regularly with a variety of new information. Switch up your exercise routine, eat new foods and take classes with new people. Learn how to ignite passion in your life and relationships.


If significance is among the top two of your 6 human needs, then part of meeting that need includes receiving recognition. This translates into a desire to be seen, heard and listened to – in short, you want to be noticed. You measure significance by what you believe makes you unique compared to everyone else around you. Recognition provides you with a sense of validation that makes you feel seen, special and/or needed. Recognition is a major driving force behind human behavior because it provides us with a measurement system to analyze and track our significance. Recognition is also an extremely important part of keeping up employee productivity.

Those who don’t devise a positive way to feel significant may end up taking drastic measures to make themselves feel good, like turning to alcohol or engaging in frequent arguments. Others surround themselves with people that they view as less skilled or accomplished to provide contrast to their own achievements. Either scenario can result in increased significance – but neither behavior is particularly healthy.

How to tell if significance is one of your core needs: You’re highly driven to be successful and love setting and reaching goals. You’re committed to a cause – or several causes. Others tell you that you stand out. You can be overly competitive, perfectionistic or dramatic.

How to fulfill a need for significance: Channel your competitive nature into healthy activities by learning a new sport or skill or by volunteering. Work on your people skills to become a more well-rounded leader. Commit to total mastery of your profession or career.


If connection/love is your top basic human need, you are constantly seeking out a close relationship with someone or something. You truly understand that love wakes you up to the gift of life. People need love, and this can lead to some incredibly fulfilling relationshipsbut it can also cause you to sacrifice self-care in order to take care of others or maintain a partnership.

How to tell if connection is one of your core needs: Loyalty and generosity with those you love are your top values. You give freely and others find you trustworthy. You have strong social ties, but you can sometimes lose your sense of self and find it hard to say “no.”

How to fulfill a need for connection: Be willing to be vulnerable and create deeper, more meaningful friendships. Communicate your needs to your partner to improve intimacy. Achieve greater spirituality through prayer, meditation or connecting with nature.

Growthwhat makes us happy is not what we get its who we become

Those whose foremost core need is growth are always striving to be better and learn more. They are very good at their jobs, but tend to move on quickly as soon as they believe they’ve reached their full potential. Though their constant striving for betterment ensures they will never be bored, they can err on the side of perfectionism and neglect the rest and relaxation they need to keep stress levels manageable.

How to tell if growth is one of your core needs: You’re always pushing boundaries, both your own and those set for you by others and by society. You’re very independent and are not attached to material things. You may find it hard to connect with others and move on too quickly from relationships.

How to fulfill a need for growth: Develop your growth mindset even further by challenging yourself to not only learn, but truly master a difficult skill. Don’t forget emotional and spiritual growth: examine your limiting beliefs, learn to control your emotions and take up meditation or priming.


The secret to living is giving, and those who experience contribution as one of their top 6 human needs know this better than anyone. If you have a need to contribute, you will likely make a big difference in your community. However, you can lose sight of the fact that giving begins at home and neglect those closest to you as you change the world.

How to tell if contribution is one of your core needs: You’re an extremely empathetic and compassionate person. You enjoy giving back and sharing what you have. You want to leave a legacy. Yet you may burn out easily or be taken advantage of by others.

How to fulfill a need for contribution: Giving back is the best way to fulfill this need. Don’t just join a volunteer group – start your own. The closer the cause is to your heart, the more fulfilled you will feel.

The importance of meeting the 6 human needs

Many of your behaviors are based on which of your needs are – or are not – being met. Depending on which of the basic human needs are foremost in your personality, you could be spending a lot of time consciously or subconsciously meeting one or two of them. And if you don’t succeed, it could negatively impact your overall sense of well-being.

Knowing which of your 6 human needs is your primary driver and how this affects your ability to connect with others and develop healthy relationships is crucial to your understanding of what fuels you. It can also help you better understand and manage triggers and be in charge of your own emotions.

Did one or several of the above needs jump out at you? If you’re not sure, take the Driving Force Quiz to determine your top need.

By better understanding which of the basic human needs is your driving force, you can set goals for yourself and implement positive behaviors to help you achieve those goals. Understanding these needs, and which ones you want to meet in any given moment, can help you embrace the power of growth and create new patterns that lead to lasting fulfillment.

Want to learn more about the 6 human needs and how you prioritize them in your own life? No matter what you want – significance, certainty or love and connection – Unleash the Power Within will give you the momentum to achieve it. Embrace the life you desire and deserve today.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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