The needs of humankind

What are the human needs? Why do most of us human beings go to work each day, why do we live with a partner, why do we have children? What are we trying to achieve in all of this? What indeed are we striving for? Is it merely to obtain food, to procreate, or do we want to purchase as many objects as possible, possess company shares, make careers for ourselves, go down in history, exercise power over others?
Much has already been written on the objectives and origins of human actions, we want here therefore to extract what we believe to be the most important of the different theories and to add our own thoughts to this.

In general it is assumed that in the final analysis all human beings have comparable needs. According to which of these needs have already been satisfied, according to age, the experiences of life and the culture, each person however sets his own priorities for the priorities which are still open in different ways. The best known here is probably the representation of these human needs and priorities in the form of a Maslow pyramid (Maslow‘s needs pyramid , maslows hierarchy of needs).

Maslow put forward the theory that human beings assign clear, hierarchical priorities to their individual needs (maslows hierachy of needs). As soon as a person has reached a particular level in his own needs pyramid, the need to achieve the next higher level is aroused. As representative of the many other approaches to this theme we will take a brief look at the individual elements of this Maslow pyramid.

  1. Human beings initially set their priorities according to their existential needs such as food, clothes and sleep. If the existential needs are not met survival is threatened and life itself is in danger.
  2. If the existential needs are satisfied the need for safety is awakened: The desire for protection from the risks to life such as war, sickness, accident, environmental catastrophes etc. take centre ground.
  3. The next level in the priority pyramid according to Maslow concerns the social needs: The human being wants to be with like-minded people, he wants to be accepted and loved.
  4. The following level is concerned with self-regard and the esteem of other people: The human being wants to strengthen his self-confidence and for this purpose seeks regard and recognition from other people.
  5. The top objective is the need for self-realization: The human being wants to be able to be himself and to permanently be able to experience inner peace, happiness and harmony.
As already indicated the needs of man have frequently been investigated and described, the human needs pyramid can be refined, modified and supplemented at will. We can also – with good justification – ask ourselves, whether for example the achievement of the third step is really a necessary precondition for the fourth or fifth steps. For our purposes it is not particularly meaningful to generalize the needs of man too strongly. In spite of this: Whoever observes human beings sees that in spite of their individuality the great majority of people set very similar priorities within a particular economic and cultural area. Very very similar indeed – the more we look at it.
However each person usually finds that his needs priorities change during the course of his life. Older people set many of their priorities differently from younger people. We don’t want to go into the many types of human needs in any more detail. Astonishingly in virtually all investigations into the motives for human actions two great commonalities are found:

Existential needs are the first priority. It is certainly clear that not only the human being but also in general every being upon the earth first of all seeks the resources necessary for survival, in particular food and an environment in which it is actually possible to live.

The top priority level is that of inner harmony. The more the other human needs are satisfied the stronger is aroused the desire for a perpetual state of happiness, harmony, security, inner peace and calmness. Humans like to be themselves everywhere and at all times and at the same time wish to be fully accepted and to feel loved. Since this concerns an abstract idea of the quality of life this state is difficult to describe. Religio­ns for example describe this as entry to heaven, the achievement of nirvana, a life of unconditional love, total peace on earth, breaking out of the cycle of reincarnation etc. The highest objective of life is actually not so surprising (see also meaning of life ).
Once we accept that the human needs described above are «somehow» attainable, must not such a state be glorious? Just imagine you are constantly in a state where nothing can worry you ever again, where you are completely satisfied and calm. You can feel love and radiate love. No sickness, no accidents, no quarrels, no cares, simply just harmony. Surely this is worth striving for by everyone on earth? If you don’t believe that this is attainable would it not be sensible to develop in this direction, to at least try to get as close as possible to this goal?

Advertising responds to our needs

In no other branch of industry are the needs of human beings so intensively investigated than in advertising. If it is known what the potential consumer group which purchases a given product or service really strives for, where these people set their highest priorities, it is possible to respond exactly to these needs in the advertising and hence earn lots of money!

The striving for harmony and happiness, for a life spent in love and peace is therefore frequently exploited in advertising: First we see a suffering person who has an affliction, an illness or a problem, then a product (pill, ointment, food, drink, car, washing powder, software, computer, telephone, holiday place etc.) and finally we see the same person who – thanks to the use of the product shown - is happy. Often too the happy person is shown together with the product. Just try sometime to deliberately observe how frequently the advertising messages are set up in this way regardless of the product on offer.

 

The suggestion is implanted in those watching that thanks to the use of this product you will be successful, beautiful, highly-regarded, rich or whatever – and this will (also) make you happy, your deepest longings will thereby be fulfilled.

Why does advertising promise us harmony and happiness? Why doesn’t advertising simply tell us the facts of the matter, why do they appeal to our feelings and longings? The answer is obvious: In each person there is a longing for the highest goal, for perpetual harmony, for the constant state of happiness. This longing can also be exploited to maximise financial profits, to achieve power, yes - even to manipulate other people. We will come back in this chapter to discuss these goals again.

Substitute dealings

If we consider the effort which drives certain people to feel the abovementioned feeling of happiness, if only briefly, it becomes clear that many of us – probably for a long time - have been searching for ways of achieving perpetual inner harmony, that is the top level of our needs. Here is just a small selection of the ways which are undertaken:
  • Overcoming the fear of death: People subject themselves to great danger in order to feel for a brief moment the indescribable feeling of happiness after surviving the situation. Thereby it is not usually very important whether this risk of death was objectively or only subjectively present. Examples of such activities are free climbing up a rock face (without safety gear), ski descents over vertical rock faces, diving into unknown water from a great height, white-water canoeing, boat trips over waterfalls, bungy-­jumping, trips on certain types of ride in pleasure parks, as well as the playing of certain computer games.
  • Achieving high performance levels: To be the first, the best, the fastest or the most beautiful, in whatever we have done or are still doing, also leads – at least for a short time – to a feeling of happiness of the sort «I am the greatest or the best». In these activities the public often plays an important role. It is at best necessary to be able to see the respective person so as to be able to identify with him. In this way part of this brief feeling of happiness is also transferred to the spectators. Examples: Top sporting events of all kinds, Miss World or similar competitions, Guinness Book of Records etc.

As can be seen from the above examples, very many of us are – as a rule unconsciously – looking for ways of achieving personal harmony, the top step in the priority list of human needs. Something draws us, we want to «find ourselves», «experience something» often without really knowing ourselves what we mean by this.

Therefore the question is posed once again: What is your personal attitude to this: Would you like to have personal harmony, come close to a lasting feeling of love and happiness? Would you also like to be able to calmly accept all the influences and situations in your surroundings? Never get annoyed again and not have to put up with fears any longer?

If we deliberately plan for this goal, there must surely also be ways of getting close to it for a longer period than for just a few short seconds!

The observations in the next chapters should serve to discuss how we can bring this goal to reality and above all to show real possibilities for every one of us. It is entirely our own decision whether we strive for this goal and want to reach it or not. Nothing and no one can make us do this or prevent us from doing it!