Skip to content

The 6 Needs That Drive All Human Behavior

Understanding your personal hierarchy of needs is key to sustaining happiness or creating change.

I’ve spent most of my life interested in what drives human behavior. Always believing there has to be a formula to motivate people. The belief that if you have the will, you can find the way.

Walk into any bookstore and the secrets to happiness are in abundance. So why isn’t everybody happy? There is someone in the world who has been successful at whatever you’re failing at right now. Find that book, read it, and follow the instructions. Why isn’t it that simple?

Because happiness, personal drive, desire, perseverance, and success are personal. Very personal. We attach pain and pleasure to different things leading us to happiness or despair. These attachments are based on a hierarchy of 6 universal needs. How you meet these needs determines your level of satisfaction and fulfillment. I first studied these driving forces decades ago in the book, Awaken the Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins.

While these 6 needs are universal, the key is to determine the hierarchy for you. As you rank them, keep in mind what brings you immediate joy may not be behaviors that ultimately make you feel good, are actually good for you, are good for those around you, and serve the greater good.

True life mastery is achieved when your experiences align with these six priority needs.

While these needs seem paradoxical, in conflict with one another, true fulfillment is achieved when all 6 needs are satisfied through constructive means. Planning strategies, setting goals, and making choices aren’t enough to establish dominion. Your focal points and belief systems determine the vehicles you select, positive or negative.

1. Certainty

Certainty gives us confidence and comfort. On stable footing, we are more likely to act courageous.

If our life is too certain, we become bored. Or we become control freaks trying to hold on to a certain level of security.

2.  Uncertainty

The desire for fulfillment requires a certain amount of uncertainty. Variety, surprise and challenge stimulate our senses and help us feel fully alive.

Too much uncertainty and we become unsure of ourselves and our surroundings leading to fear and insecurity.

3.  Significance

We all want to feel special in some way. As unique contributors, we can fulfill a purpose that serves ourselves and our world. Or we can achieve significance through criminal activity, drama, over spending, bullying, or any other desperate attempt to be noticed.

On the other hand, if we’re too unique we feel out of place and lack a sense of belonging and acceptance.

4.  Connection

We find connection in churches, schools, neighborhoods and families. But also in gangs, prisons and groups that cater to lost souls seeking any type of connection.

Sometimes we perform at extraordinary levels just to be accepted and associated with high achievers. Or we spend money to “keep up with the Jones’s” to feel like we’re part of the community. When our desire for belonging doesn’t coincide with our true purpose, we feel conflicted. Our outer self doesn’t express our true inner self. Extreme behaviors such as excessive drug or alcohol consumption can result from this inner conflict.

5.  Growth

The alternative to growth is death. Therefore, if we aren’t growing and learning, we’re unhappy and unfulfilled. We feel empty no matter how rich, how many Facebook friends, or how much stuff we’ve accumulated.

When we put a plug on our growth, the bubbles churn with no outlet. Everyone has bubbles, the potential to learn and grow. In contrast, we may be like wind in a desert. Whirling around every which way, stirring the sand, with no clear path and no destiny in sight.

6. Contribution

Helping others, acts of kindness, or taking meaningful action serves the greater good but also ourselves. We don’t have to be Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, or Oprah Winfrey to make a difference. Raising children responsibly and treating others with respect and kindness, even those with whom you disagree, impacts all of our futures.

Contribution begins with one simple belief:  What I do matters.


If you are interested in taking a survey to better determine your hierarchy of needs, click here. Once you complete the survey, score it here. To fully interpret your score, click here.

Anytime you feel misaligned or off course, re-examine these 6 needs to determine the conflict. Be honest about how you’re fulfilling each of these needs and what vehicles might serve you better. There is a fine line between despair and fulfillment.

You don’t have to move mountains. Funneling your energy into one or two channels can meet all 6 needs constructively. Unfold and flourish. You’ll know it. You’ll feel it. Your true destiny.


"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Alan Kay

Comments are closed.