Needs, Wants and Desires

There is a vast difference between need’s, wants and desires, but there is a logical progression between the three. Although the term “need” is often used in lieu of a want and desire, there is a difference! For example, when my children were younger, they would emphasize their wants/desires with the emphatic, “but dad we NEED a puppy”.


Needs are something basic, something absolutely necessary. A want on the other hand is a feeling for something you lack. A desire is the craving to apprehend your want. Needs are usually physiological, while wants and desires are more psychological.

Much thought and effort has gone into examining the physiological and psychological needs, wants and desires of mankind. You may agree or disagree with some, but that’s good, because that means it has you thinking and evaluating.

One of the oldest written accounts of mans ‘wants’ and ‘desires’ vs. ‘needs’ is found in the Hebrew telling of creation. In that account, God (Elohim) gave Adam all things necessary for living, including fellowship with Himself. He fulfilled all Adams needs. However, Adam also ‘wanted’ other things like a human companion so Elohim gave him a companion named Eve. Adam and Eve wanted even more. They also wanted the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Note:  Another forbidden fruit was from the tree of life. That fruit apparently was not a ‘want’ or ‘desire’ for them). Their reasoning was that knowledge of good and evil would make them just like Elohim. You see their ‘want’ was for a feeling for something they lacked, and their ‘desire’ became a craving to apprehend a want.

Their wants and desires became greed. A simple definition for greed is “To
have more than is necessary”. Their action (greed) was a transaction against Elohim, and was punished. I’m not belittling the creation account, (actually, I believe it). You see, needs are essentials, but wants and desires can very easily turn into greed. The problem is greed is never satisfied. We always want and desire more. Wants and desires can be either good or bad. Greed takes over when our unbridled wants and desires become our primary motivator making wants appear as needs (must haves).

A first century Hebrew evangelist by the name of Saul (Paul) wrote, two thousand years ago, that there are three important needs. These basic needs are “Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these three being love”. So, let’s summarize a few of the human needs presented in those ancient texts:

  • 1. The need for Fellowship with a power greater than ourselves.
  • 2. The need for Companionship with others.
  • 3. The need for knowledge
  • 4. The need for faith.
  • 5. The need for hope.
  • 6. The need for Love.
  • Now let’s look at some more contemporary writings.


    Abraham Maslow was born in 1938 in Brooklyn New York, and in 1943 introduced his work A theory of human motivation”. He also published a book titled Motivation and Personality”. During the 1950’s he became the driving force behind the field of Humanistic Psychology, and developed what is caller Maslow’s Triangle. As shown below.

    With this triangle Maslow formulated a progression from basic to complex needs. Maslow maintained that once basic needs are met people desire to evolve upward. The levels progress upward and become more psychological, finally the individual reaches the level of self-actualization. The definition of actualization being, “the process of growing and developing as a person to achieve individual potential”

    The levels as depicted in his triangle are as follows:

    1.Physiological needs — food, clothing, shelter, warmth self esteem.

    2.Safety needs — Security, Employment of resources, Morality, Health.

    3. Social needs — Belonging, love, affection, family.

    (The uper two needs are achieved after the lower needs are satisfied.)

    4. Esteem needs –Confidence, achievement, respect for others.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                5. Self-actualization needs – Self  awareness, personal growth, morality,  creativity, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts. (This level being the  highest achievable).

  • Maslow’s chart is pretty much self explanatory, but here goes my simple analysis. Physiological (physical) needs are fundamental to life, thus are required continuously. Especially necessary is breathing, food, water and shelter. The others steps in the triangle, (we call them mile posts in Alaska) may show the processes which individuals or cultures go through as they mature, but are more like wants and desires then needs. The ascending order does not indicate the duration one spends in each mile post.
    Neither is there any explanation how ancient civilizations  display all the levels concurrently while still struggling with meeting the basic physiological needs. For additional data on Maslow,s Triangle and other management information go to www.businessballs.com.
  • Dr. William Glasser in his book, Control Theory Management, lists five basic human needs. (ISBN 088730-673-X) www.wglasser.com

    1.  Survival.

    2. Love and belonging.

    3. Power and recognition.

  • 4. freedom.
  • 5. Fun.
  • Note, that unlike Maslow’s triangle Dr. Glasser’s five basic human needs do not show a progression, and are more in line with those in the ancient texts. Psychological and psychological needs discussed by Mr.’s Maslow and Glasser may be common to individuals, but are they the universal or basic needs displayed by all past and current cultures, communities, families or work groups ?
  • Harper Lee, in her ‘best selling’ novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird, has Jem and his sister Scout discussing differing types of people. Jem maintained there were four different types, but Scout said “ Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks”.

    A good friend and neighbor (Boras) for over ten years moved to Alaska from Moscow Russia. He has a  PhD was in economics. We had very interesting discussions on various subjects. Especially on needs, wants and desires. One comment he frequently made in his broken English was “peoples is peoples”. Meaning, we’re all basically the same. Surprisingly, his needs wants and desires very closely paralleled our/my own. I conclude Boras and Scout are right about folks, “Peoples is peoples- just folks!”

    Let’s examine and see if we can we find any commonality of need’s, wants and desires between past and modern cultures excluding the basics physical needs of food, clothing and shelter. Here are a few thoughts for  example gained by looking at
    indigenous people and cultures. (Peace, Freedom, Hope, Spirituality, Companionship, A human touch, to nurture and be nurtured, Self expression, Learning, physical work, Art, Music, love and be loved, Community, Governance.)
    Think about it and develop your own list, and then analyze it in relationship to other deeply held needs, wants and desires.

    You may have heard the American Indian saying “You don’t know a person until you’ve walked in their moccasin.” Whether that’s an American Indian saying or not, I don’t know. However, in Alaska we use the term mukluk instead of moccasin, but the meaning is still the same.

    Remember our discussion on the importance of vision? In order to effectively assist, help or lead anyone and have them
    embrace your vision, you must first understand the individuals their cultural and specific needs wants and desires. Understanding the importance of a vision and understanding needs, wants and desires, is paramount to servant leadership.

    The next thing we’re going to look at in helping us understand folks, is a review of personalities, characters, and temperaments. That discussion can be found in the Chapter: “Understanding Yourself and Others.”