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“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfilment. If these basic needs aren’t met we feel empty, incomplete.” Stephen R Covey

There are a number of ways that writers and philosophers have elected to describe these needs. The oldest that comes to mind is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which looks like this to the unfamiliar:

Maslow

In an obvious nutshell Maslow explained that a met need no longer motivates, and that we climb this pyramid in order of settled need, in the sense that once one is ‘secure’ in one level it is safe to seek settlement of the next. In his view, once we met our physical need (warmth, food) we climbed to security (home, fence, walls), then to social (family, friends, community), then esteem (now we probably truly seek work, which feeds the lower levels and our self-esteem), but when we came to self-actualisation he was talking about how we were living our values – how we are congruent with what we believe in, and are getting it.

Anthony Robbins writes of 6 Human Needs, with no hierarchy at all. No, I’ll amend that – there is a hierarchy of 2 levels. Level one consists of the survival needs of certainty (principles, reliable systems), variety (surprise, amusement), significance (self-esteem) and connection (relationships); level 2 consists of growth (the need to develop intellectually) and contribution (the need to serve others in some fashion). Robbins contends that the latter two, while not essential for survival, do make life worth living and prevent us from becoming obsolete.

And Stephen Covey writes of 4 Human Needs – live (physical), love (relationships), learn (develop intellectually) and leave a legacy (serve, be remembered for something).

The only significant difference for me in these illustrations is that Covey is of the opinion that we need to meet all 4 needs if we are to be truly happy. Robbins contends that we should meet his 6, but that we can cope with ‘just’ 4. And Maslow appears to suggest that we only ‘need’ the level we are at.

That’s why I like Covey’s four. He goes into this deeply and suggests first that we aren’t truly happy if even only one of the needs isn’t met. We can be safe and secure, wealthy, intelligent and have a loving family – and still feel unfulfilled (unless we serve that family). We can be wholly engrossed in work, providing a home and income – and forget our loved ones need us. We can serve, love our family and friends – and yet be losing our edge through reliance on everything around us not changing. In essence, Stephen Covey is suggesting that we are happiest not when we are meeting all 4 needs separately – which is routine for most successes and is arguably ‘enough’ for most of us – but when we meet all 4 simultaneously. If we can find a hobby, career, pastime, relationship (etc.) that provides income, connection, mental stimulation and service all at the same time, we will be most happy. That, for me, is the true definition of vocation.

Go find or rediscover yours.

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