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Needs Versus Wants Using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

By Edited Oct 25, 2016 0 2

Too often people confuse what they need and what they want.  A need is something required in order to survive; a want is something desired but not required.  Personal growth entails meeting the deficiency needs first and achieving the growth needs.  What does this mean? 

The Deficiency Needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy 

Maslow’s theory presents as a pyramid much like the nutritional pyramid; with the basic requirements  for survival as the foundation; the most important needs a person must have to survive.  Deficiency needs arise from deprivation.  These are:[1]

  • Physiological
  • Safety 
  • Love and Belonging
  • Esteem 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; photo by user: purpleslog, Soource: flickr
The bottom of the pyramid and the most important to fulfill is physiological requirements.  These  include food, water, and shelter from the elements.   The confusion of some people is how those needs are met.  While the body must have certain foods to survive; it doesn’t require potato chips, cookies, or ice cream per se.  Many food choices consumed by people are “want” foods; not “need” foods.   Likewise, soda is not a "must have."  The body must have water; it does not require soda.  The body also doesn’t require a mansion (a want); it simply requires shelter from the elements. 

Safety includes personal security, financial security, health and well-being and a safety net against illness and/or accidents.   Love and belongingness includes family, friendships, and intimacies.   Self –esteem is belief and respect of self; to feel competent.  Esteem is not only self-esteem; it also includes respect of and by others. These deficiency needs are required for complete personal growth.  While love, belongingness and self-esteem are often debated as to whether or not they are actually required for physical survival; they are widely accepted as requirements for personal growth.  

The Growth Needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy 

Maslow’s theory of self-actualization moves from deficiency requirements to growth needs.  Though the growth needs are not required for physical survival; they are required to complete personal growth to self-actualization.  They are the desire to grow as a person.  The growth needs are:

  • to know and understand
  • Aesthetic
  • Self-actualization 

The growth needs are most often displayed as only self-actualization in most interpretations of Maslow’s pyramid.  Most people have a great desire for knowledge; a thirst for cognitive growth.  They crave to understand, to ma

Self-Actualization on Personal Growth Pyramid; Photo by J. Finkelstein, Source: Wikimedia Commons
ke sense of their worlds.  They also must have some sort of order and symmetry in their worlds (aesthetic needs) and what they deem beauty in their worlds.   Gaining these lead to the top of the pyramid: self-actualization. 

According to Maslow as people become more self-actualized; they become wiser and reactions become more automatic in that self-actualized people automatically know what to do in any given situation.   Self-actualization is a fulfillment of potential.   Maslow later added a further level “transcendence” which is the desire to help others realize their potentials and self-fulfillments and to connect beyond the ego. 

Needs versus Wants in Today’s Society 

Using Maslow’s hierarchy what sense can be made of the attitudes in today’s society about what is needed versus what is wanted?  Who or what is the culprit behind the confusion of the two?   Those questions are not easy to answer.  The distinction is often relative in nature. 

Advertising tells people they need the product being sold.  Children and adolescents are influenced by peer pressure.  Young adults and couples sometimes have a desire to “keep up with the Jones.”   In a capitalistic society, needs are often skewed to material possessions.  The status of materials owned is important to many.    

The question then becomes if a person is truly self-actualized; does that person understand the difference between needs and wants?   Is personal growth determined by material possessions?  According to Maslow’s theory the answer is “yes” to the first question and “no” to the latter.  However, there will always be those who believe that success is determined by material gains.  


 The copyright of the article Needs Versus Wants Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


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Jan 21, 2013 3:00pm
We studied this in college. I found it interesting and mostly agreed with Maslow. I've been in production management for over ten years and I have seen first hand that these things make a big difference....its pretty much common sense. Nice article
Apr 21, 2013 9:05pm
Thanks for the kind words. Sorry it took so long to respond, somehow I missed this one. I studied this in college s well.
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  1. A. H. Maslow (1943) "A Theory of Human Motivation." Classics in the History of Psychology. 12/01/2013 <Web >

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