Needs refer to things that are essential while wants are the things that are desirable.
According to Abraham Maslow (1954), we can separate needs into two types:
- Basic needs (aka deficit needs) are essentials in life we require to survive. From air we breathe to the water we drink, these are the bare essentials without which our survival becomes a question (Bakar et al., 2018).
- Growth needs are the things we need in order to achieve higher goals, such as positive mental health or self-actualization. For example, we need exercise to achieve health goals, but we don’t need it to survive in the short- or medium-term, so it’s a growth need (Noltemeyer et al., 2021).
Wants, on the other hand, are mere desires. These are not necessary for survival but enhance our quality of life if consumed in good measure. This can include wanting that brand-new phone or a new dog. Wants make living more pleasant but are not as vital as needs. They are not the ‘must-haves,’ but rather the ‘nice-to-haves.’
Needs and Wants Examples
A List of Needs
The following needs start from the base essentials in order to live, to things we need in order to thrive (but not necessarily to live), aka growth needs.
1. Air: The most basic essential for humans, air provides us with oxygen necessary for respiration, which, in turn, supports life. Without it, cells in our bodies would cease to function.
2. Water: Water aids in maintaining bodily functions, from digestion to absorption, and is pivotal in flushing out toxins from our system. Our bodies are primarily composed of water, about 60% of it.
3. Food: Food provides vital nutrients for our cells to function, grow, and repair themselves. A balanced diet ensures we get the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
4. Shelter: A place to live safeguards us from environmental elements, hazards, and predators. It’s a fundamental requirement for security, rest, and familial unity.
5. Clothing: Acting as a barrier between our bodies and the environment, clothes provide protection from cold, heat, rain, and insects. It also serves societal and cultural functions.
6. Sleep: Sleep restocks energy reserves and allows the body to repair tissues. A good night’s sleep facilitates learning and memory, contributing vastly to our overall wellbeing.
7. Healthcare: Regular health check-ups prevent diseases by identifying potential health risks early. Vaccinations, medicines, and treatments are critical in curing diseases and maintaining health.
8. Hygiene: Good hygiene practices prevent the spread of diseases and infections. It involves cleanliness of body, oral care, and cleanliness of one’s surroundings.
9. Physical Safety: This refers to being free from physical harm and danger. Without safety, fear and anxiety can negatively impact mental wellbeing and quality of life.
10. Emotional Security: Emotional security ensures sound mental health. Stable relationships, a strong support network, and self-confidence contribute to this need.
11. Education: Education broadens our knowledge, enhances critical thinking, and provides skills for employment. It plays a significant role in our social and economic development.
12. Security: Personal security, financial security, and health security are essentials in maintaining a stable, stress-free life. It’s about freedom from threats, harm, and having reliable safeguards in place should a crisis arise (like insurances or home security systems).
13. Exercise: Regular physical activity strengthens the heart, reduces the risk of various health conditions, improves mood, and boosts energy levels. It’s a key component of staying healthy and maintaining a desirable quality of life (for instance, preventing health issues such as obesity and heart diseases).
14. Social interaction: Human beings are social animals, and interacting with others is a crucial element of our emotional and mental well-being. Whether casual or significant relationships, interacting with others gives a sense of belonging, provides emotional support and helps us develop and maintain our interpersonal skills (like attending social gatherings and participating in group activities).
15. Freedom from Fear: Living without fear leads to improved mental wellness. Whether it’s fear of violence, injustice, or uncertainty, freedom from such fears is vital.
16. Recreation/Leisure: Activities for relaxation or fun refresh the mind and body. They can include hobbies, sports, traveling, or simply resting. Even prisons ensure there is recreation time for inmates!
17. Sense of Achievement: Meeting personal or professional goals leads to a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. This needs reflects our quest for personal growth, and if we don’t have it, our mental health may suffer.
18. Transportation: Transportation ensures mobility, allowing us to commute for work, education, healthcare, or recreation. Accessibility to reliable transportation opens opportunities and supports socio-economic development.
19. Internet Access: In the digital age, internet access could be considered a need in order to participate in society (such as to maintain a bank account). It facilitates communication, access to information, and digital literacy. It has become an essential need in most societies.
20. Light/Heat: Both are crucial for maintaining optimal living conditions. While light allows us to function during dark hours, heat keeps us warm during cold weather.
21. Empathy: The need for empathy, understanding one’s feelings or situations, strengthens bonds and enriches our relationships. It promotes trust and aids in effective communication.
22. Stability: The assurance of stability, whether financial or emotional, fosters a sense of security, and is a need for children as they grow, in particular. It ensures a steady state of living.
A List of Wants
23. Latest Smartphone: With new models getting launched frequently, owning the latest version is a common desire, despite older models serving the essential functions like calling and browsing.
24. Exotic Vacation: Traveling to exotic locations (like Bora Bora or Switzerland) offer leisure and pleasure, providing experience and memories beyond the mundane.
25. Expensive Jewelry: Jewelry, particularly of precious metals and stones, signifies wealth and status. Apart from being a fashion statement, it’s seen as an asset and investment.
26. Gourmet Food: While food is a basic need, the desire for gourmet or specialty foods, such as caviar or truffles, signifies an elevated dining experience.
27. High-end Electronics: Gadgets like high-resolution TVs, premium laptops, or advanced gaming consoles deliver enhanced user experience and entertainment.
28. Personal Gym: While exercise is a necessity, owning a personal, well-equipped gym is a luxury. It offers convenience and privacy, but outside of that, it’s not crucial.
29. Big House: An extravagant mansion or a big house is seen as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. While protecting us from weather and providing space for us to live, the additional space and luxury are wants.
30. Private Swimming Pool: It is a symbol of luxury and leisure. While swimming is a form of exercise, having a private swimming pool is more a want than a need.
31. Brand Bags: Brands like Chanel or Prada offer bags that are seen as a status symbol. Despite the fact that normal bags can carry items just as well, the demand for luxury options persists.
32. Expensive Cosmetics: High-end beauty products present a sense of luxury. Standard cosmetics can also enhance appearance, but expensive ones are generally sought after for their brand appeal.
33. Luxury Watches: Time can be checked through various means today, yet luxury watches from brands like Rolex are desired for their craftsmanship, heritage, and status symbol.
34. Private Jet: Although flying commercial gets you from point A to point B, private jets are craved due to their convenience, luxury, and status symbol.
35. Personal Chef: While cooking is an essential skill for survival, hiring a personal chef is a luxury providing comfort, time savings, and gourmet meals.
36. Designer Furniture: Custom-made or designer furniture pieces cater not only to comfort and utility but also to aesthetic appeal and status.
37. Personal Library: Book lovers often dream of a personal library, filled with first editions and rare books.
38. Premium Wine: Enjoyment of a glass of wine can be fulfilled by supermarket varieties. Premium wines are often bought for their perceived better taste, aging potential, or as a status symbol.
39. Art Collection: Owning expensive art pieces is a clear example of a luxury desire, representing both a status symbol and a passion.
40. Gaming Room: Having a dedicated gaming room with the latest technology is a dream for many gamers, although it’s not vital for playing video games.
41. Diamond Accessories: While simple accessories can enhance one’s appearance, owning diamond-studded ones is about luxury, investment, and status.
42. Premium Coffee Machine: While instant coffee may serve the purpose of a caffeine fix, premium coffee machines are wanted for their capacity to deliver a superior taste and café-like experience at home.
43. Sports Car: Although any functional vehicle can provide transportation, sports cars are desired for speed, aesthetics, and prestige.
44. Home Theater System: A luxury for movie and music lovers, a home theater system provides a high-quality sound experience.
45. Limited Edition Items: People often wish for limited edition or collector’s items for their rarity, whether they are books, sneakers, toys, or other products.
46. Yacht: A symbol of ultimate luxury, yachts are dreamed of for personal sea voyages and high-end social gatherings.
47. Horse: A desire for some, owning a horse can be for racing, leisure, or to display wealth.
48. Membership in Elite Clubs: While socialization can happen anywhere, membership in exclusive clubs implies a high societal standing and offers networking with a select few.
49. Luxury Car: A luxury car enhances prestige and offers superior travel comfort, although a simpler car could meet the basic need of transportation.
50. Designer Clothes: While ordinary clothes serve the purpose of protecting our body from the environment, designer clothes offer a sense of high status (think of labels like Gucci or Louis Vuitton).
The Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one of the most famous models for understanding human needs.
This hierarchy starts at the base with the most essential ‘base needs’, leading up to things you need in order to achieve self-actualization (growth needs), which he defines as the state of realization of your best self.
The five tiers of need, from base needs to growth needs, are:
- Physiological (base need) – we first desire things that keep us alive, like air and water
- Safety and Security (base need) – then, we desire things that make us feel safe and secure, like shelter and financial stability
- Love and Belonging (growth need) – then, we seek out social satisfaction through a sense of belonging to an in-group, a good family life, and finding friends or an intimate partner
- Esteem (growth need) – then, we seek respect from both our community and ourselves (self-esteem).
- Self-actualization (growth need) – lastly, we seek self-actualization, by which Maslow means becoming the best version of ourselves. An example might be the deep satisfaction from raising happy children (Bakar, 2018; Lester, 2013; Maslow, 1954).
The key controversy of this model is that Maslow assumes we need to fulfill the base needs in order to unlock higher-up needs (Lester, 2013). But, clearly, many people have achieved self-actualization without satisfying the lower-down needs – just ask a Buddhist monk!
Bakar, A. A., Osman, M. M., Bachok, S., & Abdullah, A. (2018). Sustainable Well-Being Objective Indicators: Basic Necessities, Complementary Needs and Desired Opportunities. Sustainable Future for Human Security: Society, Cities and Governance, 175-188. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5433-4_12
Lester, D. (2013). Measuring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Psychological reports, 113(1), 15-17. Doi: https://doi.org/10.2466/02.20.PR0.113x16z1
Maslow A.H. (1954) Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.
Noltemeyer, A., James, A. G., Bush, K., Bergen, D., Barrios, V., & Patton, J. (2021). The relationship between deficiency needs and growth needs: The continuing investigation of Maslow’s theory. Child & Youth Services, 42(1), 24-42.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]