What Drives and Satisfy Us: A Simple Guide

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A well-known general theory of what people want is called “Hierarchy of needs”, proposed by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943. Maslow’s theory was that people progress through five general stages in the pursuit of what they want: physiology, safety, belonging/love, esteem, and self-actualisation. As represented below, physiology represents the “lowest” level of human need, while self-actualisation is the “highest”.

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In Marlow’s hierarchy, each lower-level need must be met before a person can focus on higher-order needs. If you don’t have enough food, or you’re in physical danger, you’re probably not paying too much attention to how much other people like you or how much personal growth you’re experiencing. To simplify, people seek existence, relatedness, and growth, in that order.

  • Existence, in that people seek what they need to survive
  • Relatedness, in that people move on to making friends and finding mates
  • Growth, in that people focus on doing things they enjoy and improving their skills in things that interest them

Marlow’s theory explains the general priority of human desires, but not the methods people use to satisfy them. For that, we must turn to other theories of human action. Arguably, all human beings have five Core Human Drives that have a profound influence on our decisions and actions:

  • The Drive to Acquire: the desire to obtain or collect physical objects, as well as immaterial qualities like status, power, and influence.
  • The Drive to Bond: the desire to feel valued and loved by forming relationships with others, either platonic or romantic.
  • The Drive to Learn: the desire to satisfy our curiosity.
  • The Drive to Defend: the desire to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our property.
  • The Drive to Feel: the desire for new sensory stimulus, intense emotional experience, pleasure, excitement, entertainment, and anticipation.

At the core, this means money, status, power, knowledge, protection, pleasure, and excitement. An unmet need in one of these areas equals to a dissatisfied individual.

Note: The brilliant “The Personal MBA” book by Josh Kaufman, which I highly recommend, served as the foundation for this post. You can order the book from amazon here (affiliate link).

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