Essential Psychological Needs

Sandy Blaine

Aug 14, 2022

We all know that we have fundamental biological needs — oxygen, sunlight, water and food — but did you know psychology has also identified our most essential psychological needs as well? That’s right, and there are just three of them!

According to Self-Determination Theory, which is concerned with understanding human motivation, how we make choices, and what motivates us to grow and change, our basic needs for psychological health are:

1. A sense of belonging

That feeling of belonging is about connectedness to others. It’s not surprising that this would be one of the three essentials; humans are social creatures and the health and well-being benefits of positive relationships cannot be overstated. Having a strong social network and a sense of belonging gives us countless well-being benefits. One of the most amazing is how it positively affects our longevity, even outweighing other significant health risk factors in terms of impact.

essential psychological needs

2. A sense of competence

This is basically about knowing that we’re good at something that is important to us and creates value in our lives. Feeling competent is the confidence that we have or can acquire the skills needed to succeed in reaching our goals. It’s a combination of mastery, meaning, and usefulness.

essential psychological needs

3. A sense of autonomy

This is related to feeling that we have agency in our choices. While we can’t control external circumstances, we need to feel that we are in the driver’s seat in relation to steering the direction of our own lives. The driving analogy is an apt one, because even though we are in charge of the direction and the destination we are aiming for, there are many external things— such as other drivers, road conditions, weather, unexpected detours— that we’re not in control of. We can only control our response to those things and, the healthier we are, the more easily we can respond well and adapt to changes and surprises.

essential psychological needs

The six dimensions reflected on the wowe wheel impact our well-being and how we flourish in life, but these three essential needs connect especially to specific dimensions.

The need for belonging is addressed in our relationship dimension—we offer many activity recommendations intended to bolster our relationships and sense of connectedness—and also the transcendence dimension, which deals with, among other things, how we impact the well-being of others. Giving to others is another powerful well-being booster.

The need for competence is addressed by wowe’s passion dimension. When we are passionate about something, we give it a great deal of focus. That often means devoting time and energy to mastering it, and will often set goals to continually improve, whether that’s in our career or a hobby we love, such as playing a sport or a musical instrument.

The emotional dimension is the one that is most connected to the need for autonomy, and it also connects to the environment dimension, since feeling at home and making the most of where we live is one way that we can feel in control of our lives.

Think about these three essential needs in relation to your current life. Are you relatively satisfied with how you’re doing, or are there one or more of these areas where you might like to improve or expand?

Self-determination is about feeling confident that we can manage our own lives well and make choices that foster growth. Finding or creating fulfillment in these three areas supports a high level of self determination, which in turn can support our success in a variety of domains in life. Some of the activities wowe suggests for you can be a great starting place for giving more attention to these essential needs and increasing your well-being overall. Check out the wowe platform by downloading it here.

well-being whole-person well-being mental health flourishing positive psychology values motivation goals